They’re walking through their second store when Chloe gets the first message from Stacie. She opens it as Aubrey holds up two blue dresses, comparing shades.
“ALERT: BECA’S ACCENT IS COMING BACK. I TOLD U SHE HAD ONE.”
“Who’s that?” Aubrey asks, moving on.
“Stacie. She bet me on the plane ride here that Beca had a secret southern accent that my family would draw out.” She pulls a lavender dress from the rack and holds it up against herself. Aubrey scrunches her nose up in a move that just screams Jesse. Chloe hangs it back up. “Did Jesse have an accent when you met him?”
“No, actually.” Aubrey thrusts a dress into Chloe’s arms. “Try this one on?” They move to the dressing rooms, Aubrey grabbing another dress on the way. “His parents worked very hard to make sure he didn’t have one. But occasionally he would say something that sounded very, very southern. He still does.”
Chloe giggles, imagining it as she juggles the dresses in her arms and slips into the dressing room. Aubrey stays outside, her feet pacing back and forth in front of the door. Chloe hangs up their selections and quickly strips down. Once the first dress is on, she opens the door. Aubrey immediately vetoes it, so she shuts the door and strips again. Her phone dings. Then dings again. And again.
Still in her underwear, she grabs her phone and finds Snapchats from Stacie, Jessica, and Fat Amy. They’re all variations of the same thing: Eli, leaning back against Beca, her hands resting on his shoulders. In Amy’s version, she’s drawn a big curly mustache on Beca. Stacie’s version is from the side and she can see Beca is subtly flipping her off. Jessica’s is her favorite. Eli’s head is turned, his hair sticking up in the back, and Beca is smiling. Warmth swells in her chest as she screenshots all three. She sets Jessica’s as her lock screen.
“Chloe? Do you need help?”
She quickly tosses her phone down and grabs the next dress. “No, sorry. Was answering some Snapchats.” This dress zips up the side and fits pretty snugly. She already knows Aubrey will say no before she opens the door. Because, wow, cleavage.
“No way,” Aubrey says the second she sees her. “People will be too busy staring at all the boobs. Just imagine Stacie in that! It’s my special day!” She laughs, dramatically clapping a hand to her chest. “Get back in there before you fall out of that thing.”
Chloe shuts the door, twisting to unzip it as Aubrey’s soft laugh still echoes through the door.
Then she hums thoughtfully. “You know, maybe you should buy that one though. For your girlfriend.”
Chloe pauses, zipper half undone, and looks at herself in the full-length mirror on the wall. The dress really does look good--a soft, dark blue thing that goes to her ankles and dips dangerously low in the front. Then she thinks again about what Aubrey said. “She’s not my girlfriend, Bree.”
“Hm. Does she know that?”
Pulling the zipper the rest of the way down, Chloe lets the dress pool at her feet. “She does.”
There’s a pause. Aubrey’s feet go still under the door. “Do you?”
Chloe opens the door and Aubrey almost falls through it, catching herself on the wall. “What?”
Aubrey straightens, brushing a hand over her perfectly curled hair. Aubrey always does that when she knows she’s right about something. “I saw that kiss at the lake, Chloe. There was no one around to convince.”
She knows that. She’s been thinking that since it happened. She thought about it all night while Beca’s soft breath filled the room and especially when Beca had rolled over in the early hours of the morning and laid a hand over Chloe’s stomach. And when she’d leaned over Beca to give her a quick peck on the cheek before she left, Beca had sighed just a little and her hand had twitched toward Chloe. She’d thought a lot about the kiss then.
Aubrey must take her silence as confusion. “Tom wasn’t there. Nobody that might have told him was there. And you knew that.” She clasps her hands together, watching Chloe’s face carefully. “But you kissed her anyways.”
And that’s what had Chloe up late thinking about it. Because she didn’t. “She kissed me, actually.”
It’s like Chloe just told her the perfect bridesmaid dress is half off. Aubrey’s face splits into a grin and she squeals a little, grabbing Chloe’s hands. “She kissed you!”
Aubrey’s grin has always been infectious. Chloe's loved it from the first time they’d spoken at that coffee shop on campus, when their orders had been mixed up. She’d originally joined the Bellas just because she wanted to keep Aubrey smiling like this. And it’s no different now. Chloe laughs, letting Aubrey shake her.
“Chloe, you’ve got to tell her!”
“Really?” It feels a little hard to catch her breath. She’s grinning so wide that her cheeks actually hurt. “I don’t know, Bree…”
Aubrey’s grip on her wrists tightens just a little. “Chloe, she kissed you. For no reason.”
“Maybe she thought she was supposed to. Maybe--”
“Why haven’t you told the Bellas?”
Chloe blinks, thrown by the sudden subject change. “I-I don’t know.” She had thought about it. Almost texted the group chat as a heads up. But then it had slipped her mind and then they were packing and travelling and everyone was there and Beca had kissed her under the red maple and-- She blinks. “After Beca kissed me the first time, I just didn’t think about it.”
Aubrey nods, slipping her hands down to intertwine their fingers. “...Were you maybe hoping you’d never have to?”
It takes a second for Aubrey’s meaning to sink in. And Chloe feels it settle in her gut, warm and heavy. Because it might be true. Aubrey knows her better than almost anyone. Better than she knows herself most times.
A guy passing by stops, blinking at them, then grins. “Hey.” Chloe realizes she’s still just in her underwear.
“Hey, perv. Do you like walking crooked?” Aubrey steps between them and draws herself up. The General’s daughter.
The guy moves on quickly. Once he’s gone, Chloe throws her arms around Aubrey and presses a kiss to her temple. “You’re the best, Bree.”
Scoffing, Aubrey hugs her back. “I know. So hurry up and find a dress for my wedding!”
But once she’s alone in the dressing room again, a thought occurs to her. She can’t deny she likes Beca. She loves Beca, everything about her. She’s one of the best friends Chloe’s ever had. She’s funny and smart and talented and so, so sweet, even if she denies it repeatedly.
Is Chloe in love with her though? It all sounds so easy when Aubrey says it. But there’s a tremble in her hands when she thinks of that kiss by the water. Because it had been more than easy. It had been simple. Beca hadn’t freaked out after and Chloe had been able to (mostly) function normally the rest of the night. And that kind of scares her. Because Beca is her best friend. Chloe can’t risk that for anything less than in love, no matter how easy it seems.
And the last time she’d thought she was in love hadn’t turned out very well.
They find the perfect dress at the third shop they visit. It’s royal blue, with silver embroidery and Aubrey cries when Chloe steps out of the dressing room in it. The woman behind the counter assures them that it comes in plenty of sizes. (“Mamma can take them in or anything we need, Bree.”) They also find a suit for Cynthia Rose that’s the same shade of blue. They purchase Chloe’s dress immediately and it takes a little convincing for Aubrey to make her not wear it home. They’re just climbing into the car when Chloe’s phone goes off again.
Stacie. It’s a Snapchat of Beca in the backseat of Mamma’s car, surrounded by grocery bags and holding her hand up to block the camera. The caption, in bright rainbow across the picture, says, “Ur gf just told off ur ex in the cookie aisle!”
Chloe gasps and Aubrey stops, seatbelt only half pulled. “What? What happened?” She passes the phone to Aubrey and watches her eyes widen. “She told off Tom?”
It sounds like exactly the kind of thing Beca would do. She thinks of her old co-worker’s slashed tires and can’t decide if she’s thrilled or terrified. On one hand, she loves Beca’s protective streak. On the other, she really doesn’t want Beca to ever see Tom angry. Taking her phone back, Chloe quickly pulls up Stacie’s number and calls her. She answers on the first ring. “Stacie?”
“Chloe! Beca totally just went off on Doucheface! I saw him when he was walking out and he looked pissed!”
Beca’s voice is tiny in the background. “I did not! I barely spoke three sentences to him, Stace, I told you.”
“Well, whatever you said, you got his panties in a wad,” Stacie says, laughing. “What did you say?”
“Nothing, dude. Like, really, nothing happened.”
“Stacie!” Chloe says as Stacie presses Beca for more information. “Give Becs the phone.”
“Sure thing. Here’s your girlfriend!”
“Oh my god,” Beca mutters, her voice much closer now. “Hello?”
Chloe’s entire chest fills with butterflies. Which shouldn’t surprise her, because it’s always happened when she hears Beca’s voice. But now she’s paying attention to it. “What happened?”
Beca groans into the phone. “Like, he came up while I was getting bread crumbs and said some douchey stuff about you needing a man or whatever. So I just, like. I just told him I’d pass on the message.”
There’s a pause and she can just picture Beca gesturing aimlessly, one eye scrunched closed. “...I may have said I’d pass it on next time we were making out or whatever?”
There’s a screech from Beca’s end--Stacie, probably--and Chloe covers her mouth to attempt to contain her smile. “Beca. Mitchell.”
“Oh, dude, no. That’s your ‘I’m gonna glomp’ you voice. Come on.”
“Glomp” was not a word in Beca’s vocabulary until Chloe came along. She’s glad she’s taught her important things. “You’re definitely getting glomped, Becs. You defended my honor. My tiny knight.”
“Okay, you didn’t have to say ‘tiny’.”
She laughs. “Hey, Becs?”
“I love you.”
Aubrey catches her eye and grins, her shoulders lifting nearly to her ears.
“Yeah, yeah, you too, dude,” Beca mutters, voice much quieter than before. Chloe wishes she were there with her, because embarrassed Beca is so adorable. She goes boneless and usually ends up slumped all the way down in whatever seat she can find, like she can just ooze down into the cracks of it and not have to talk to anyone anymore. “See you at home.”
That shouldn’t make her feel warm all the way to the tips of her toes, but it does. Beca hangs up as Stacie starts yelling again and Chloe puts her phone down, grinning at Aubrey.
Aubrey lifts an eyebrow.
“Shut up.” Chloe falls back in her seat, covering her face. It’s so easy.
It’s so scary.
They get back to the house and find complete chaos.
The Bellas are packed into the kitchen, digging through the grocery bags on the counter and throwing each other things to put up. Mamma is sitting at the dining room table, calling out the occasional direction and “Oh, be careful, don’t hurt yourselves!”. Aunt Dana is nearly inside the fridge, a Coke in one hand and a jug of milk in the other as she yells over the talking girls for anything else that goes in the fridge. Eli is sitting on the counter, holding a bag of apples and gently kicking whoever passes.
Inexplicably, Beca is on top of the kitchen island, kneeling among the grocery bags and passing things to the girls around her. She ducks a can of tomatoes that Stacie is throwing Jessica just as Chloe and Aubrey walk in. When she straightens, she catches Chloe’s gaze and grins. Wide and easy and a little wild. She looks sort of overwhelmed, but there’s none of the usual signs that she needs to escape, so Chloe just smiles back, crossing her arms over her stomach. She presses down on the flutters there, trying to keep them down.
“Red!” Cynthia Rose cheers, noticing her. “Captain! Y’all get in here and help us!”
Mamma reaches for the dress bag in Aubrey’s hands and disappears with it--probably upstairs--as they move to help. Squeezing through the crowd and avoiding being hit by flying vegetables, Chloe makes it to Beca’s side. Beca leans down a bit to hear her over Ashley yelling for Amy to not throw the bananas. “Having fun?”
Beca snorts. “Your people are insane. So, I shouldn’t be, but…” She shrugs one shoulder, rolling her eyes.
Beca twists just in time to catch the heavy bag of rice Amy couldn’t quite get to Emily. She huffs, falling back to sit on her feet. Automatically, Chloe grabs her hips to make sure she doesn’t fall off the counter. And Beca just leans into her, lolling back so that Chloe is practically holding her up, and she hefts the bag over her head into Emily’s arms. “Jesus, Ames, more warning next time!”
Amy hisses, holding up two cans of green beans. “Trying to keep you on your toes. How are you gonna survive visiting me in Australia if you can’t catch something flying at your head?”
“Is that something that happens often there?” Beca’s straightened up, but doesn’t make any move to pull away. So Chloe doesn’t either, simply holding her hips.
“Eh?” Amy tosses the cans to Jessica, who turns and puts them in the cupboard. “Maybe.”
Beca laughs and starts digging through the grocery bags again. She pulls out a couple bottles of shampoo. “Oh. Bathroom stuff. CR.” She drops them back in the bag and passes the whole thing to Ashley, who passes it to Cynthia Rose. She salutes Beca and slips out of the room.
“Empty bags!” Aubrey calls, clapping her hands. As one, the Bellas and Beca grab every empty bag they can, ball them up, and throw them at Aubrey. “No! One at a time!” Aubrey laughs, arms over her head.
Chloe can feel Beca’s laughter vibrating in her own chest and she presses forward a bit more to give Beca a quick peck behind her ear. Beca squirms, shoulder lifting and rubbing against the side of her head, as if it tickled, and then she turns to look back at her. She’s grinning as she pushes a strand of hair behind her ear, fingers lingering momentarily where Chloe had kissed.
“Hi,” Chloe says for no reason.
“Hey,” Beca presses her lips together, nose wrinkling up.
Chloe really wants to kiss her again.
By the time they peel themselves away from the group and make it up to the garage, Chloe is practically shaking from holding herself back. Because seeing Beca laugh and joke and work alongside the Bellas, Chloe’s family, just makes her want to wrap herself around her like a jacket and just watch.
Which is exactly what she does as Beca stops behind her, at the top of the garage stairs, to take off her boots and carefully place them beside the mini fridge. Once they’re off, Beca straightens and catches her looking. “What?”
Chloe blinks, clasping her hands in front of her. “Why were you on the counter?”
Beca chuckles, plucking at the buttons of her shirt. It isn’t until the third one slips free that Chloe realizes she’s unbuttoning it. “I was kinda getting lost in the crowd. Little, uh, overwhelmed.” She grins with all her teeth, like she does when she’s super uncomfortable, and shakes her hands around, wrists twisting. Her shirt falls open, revealing the black tank top underneath. Chloe pulls her bottom lip between her teeth. “Dana told me to hop up.”
“I see.” She spins around, looking for something else to put her hands on. She sees Beca’s laptop is still open and turns it on. “You fit in here. With the Bellas and my family.” Behind her, she hears Beca laugh.
“Yeah, I guess so. I mean, they’re all fucking weird. But they’re cool.”
Chloe drops into the desk chair and types in Beca’s password. She stares at the homescreen for a moment, pushing the mouse around. It’s a cute mouse that Chloe had stuck in Beca’s stocking last Christmas. It was their first Christmas living together and they had made a rule: one gift to each other. Then Chloe made the sub-rule that anything that fit in the stocking didn’t count as an actual gift and, therefore, didn’t break the first rule. So she’d been able to get Beca the jacket she’d been eyeing for months as well as a really nice button-up, a shower speaker, and the mouse. She has no doubt that’s the only reason Beca uses it, because it may be wireless and small enough for Beca to easily close her hand around, but it’s also bright, bubble-gum pink.
“You getting changed?” Beca says, voice farther away. Chloe turns around and finds her bent over the mini fridge, pulling out a bottle of water. “For the Swansons’? Your mom said we should.”
“You know them, right?” Chloe spins her chair slowly, letting it take her away from Beca.
“Yeah. Since third grade, I think? They’re alright.” The chair spins back and she sees Beca grimace. “A little touchy-feely. And his mom has always been a little weirdly...involved? I don’t know.”
She pushes her foot against the desk to keep spinning. “Well, I’m sure they’ll be happy to see you again.” As she passes the laptop, she has a sudden urge. It feels like a bad idea right now, but it’s a little overwhelming. So she stops herself with her foot and pulls up Beca’s music, scrolling through. “Hey, Becs?”
Beca doesn’t answer out loud, but there’s a soft tapping on wood. Beca’s “I’m listening but doing something” sound. She glances back and finds Beca drinking deeply from her water bottle, eyebrows up as she watches Chloe.
The first time Chloe had come home from work crying because they’d had to put down one of the older dogs that wasn’t doing well, Beca had been completely lost. She’d fluttered about, unable to even understand what Chloe was trying to choke out, but completely ready to kill someone. It was back when Beca didn’t much like being touched and was still skittish about Chloe even being nice to her. But she’d awkwardly patted Chloe’s back and offered to get her a drink or to find whoever had upset her. When none of that worked, Beca had resorted to the only thing she knew. Music. She’d disappeared into her room and returned with her brand new shower speaker. She put on “When You Believe” by Whitney Houston and then carefully perched one cushion away on the couch, twisting her ring around her thumb. The first verse passed and Chloe’s crying slowed. She’d given Beca a quick, watery smile and Beca had returned it. Then wiggled her eyebrows and said, “Wanna dance?”
And Chloe had known she was joking, just trying to lighten the mood. But she’d stood and reached for Beca’s hands and Beca had let her pull her up. It was a little awkward, like a middle school dance. Beca’s hands barely resting on her hips, keeping her at arm’s length, Chloe’s hands perfectly still on her shoulders. But they’d laughed and danced for the short bit of the song left. Chloe had felt so much better, though she wasn’t surprised when Beca had holed herself up in her room or at work and Chloe didn’t see her for three days after.
The next time, Chloe had asked Beca. She’d gotten the highest grade in class on her last paper and she was so thrilled that she just needed to move. So she’d come home, thrown down her bag, and breathlessly asked Beca to dance. By then, Beca had already survived the “Great British Cuddling Session” as she called it, so she’d let Chloe loop her arms around her neck and pull her in, dancing to whatever new song Beca had been working on when she arrived.
And it had become a thing. Whenever Chloe was too happy or sad, she’d ask Beca to dance. Chloe didn’t ask often, but Beca never turned her down when she did.
So she’s already standing as she asks, knowing this time won’t be any different. And she smiles to let Beca know it’s a happy dance this time. Behind her, the first chords of “Love Me Harder” by Ariana Grande start playing.
Beca laughs, rolling her eyes, but Chloe knows it’s just for show, because Beca’s hips are already moving to the beat. She takes Chloe’s hand and, shocking every cell in her body, spins her once before pulling her in. Chloe goes with it, laughing as they settle against each other, one arm going around her neck, the other hand still in Beca’s. It’s a far cry from their first awkward dance and she takes full advantage, dropping her head into the crook of Beca’s neck to breathe her in. Beca’s a good dancer.
And when she begins to hum along with the chorus, Chloe has to squeeze her tighter to keep from surging forward into her. Instead, she just runs her fingers down Beca’s shoulder blade to rest right under it, feeling the rumble of the song deep beneath her ribs. They sway in place to the beat.
The song’s almost over somehow when Beca’s head turns just enough that her lips brush Chloe’s ear. Chloe takes a deep unsteady breath and closes her eyes. Their cheeks brush as Chloe slowly pulls back, blindly following that soft tingling in her stomach. Beca’s so warm and Chloe feels like she’s burning up, from the inside out. The song sounds louder, filling her ears and the open, trembling spaces between them. Beca’s breath touches the corner of her lips and Chloe holds her own, waiting.
“BELLAS ASSEMBLE IN TWENTY!” Fat Amy’s voice slices between them, sending Beca reeling back. Chloe blinks her eyes open, a little dazed. “The carriages are arriving! Finish your quickie...quick...ly...and meet in the front yard!” There’s a banging on the wall downstairs and some laughter that Chloe recognizes as Aunt Dana’s. Then it’s gone and “Love Me Harder” is fading into the opening of “Anpanman” by BTS.
Beca recovers first, laughing. “Dude, I love this song.” She slips out of Chloe’s arms gently, an extra bounce in her step as she slips into the bathroom. The door closes and she can hear her sing, “I’m not a superhero…”
Only once she’s alone does Chloe lift a hand to her racing heart, breathing in deeply. What was it that Beca said she did sometimes? In for seven, out for six?