Conscious of how long the sink’s been running, Beca shuts it off, but stays bent over the basin, wet hands pressed to her cheeks. Her face feels hot, like she’s got a fever, though she knows she was fine a few minutes ago.
Before she’d almost kissed Chloe.
Because that’s exactly what she’d been intending to do. Chloe had pressed against her, her breath tickling Beca’s collarbone, and it had felt so good. And she had wondered how good it would feel to kiss her again, like she had under the tree. Except without an audience this time. Just them. Just because.
She grabs the edge of the sink and crosses her feet, leaning back until her arms are completely extended over her head. Her back pops. She switches her feet around and leans again until it pops. Then she stands and drops back against the bathroom wall, looking at herself in the mirror. Her face is flushed or maybe that’s from the cold water. Her eyeliner is smeared in one corner and she stands out--dark flannel and hair against the pale lavender bathroom walls. Quickly, she pulls her makeup bag from under the sink and sets about fixing herself up. “Sugar” by Maroon 5 is pumping through the bathroom door and she can hear Chloe singing along. It doesn’t help her keep her hands steady while she fixes her makeup.
When she steps out of the bathroom, Chloe is already changed into a sparkly, knee-length, green dress and cream heels. She looks amazing. Beca shoves her hands in her pockets. “You look amazing.” Son of a bitch, that’s not what she meant to say. Too much, Mitchell.
But Chloe’s entire face lights up and she drops her head, smoothing the dress over her flat stomach. “Yeah? It’s one of my old dresses I left here. I didn’t think it would still fit.” She cocks her hip out, striking a pose like she’s at the end of a runway.
Beca snorts, rolling her eyes. “Go fix your hair so it looks good too.”
Chloe gasps, smacking her arm as she passes. Beca laughs, not even bothering to dodge. Once the bathroom door is closed, she digs into her side of the dresser drawers. She knows she has it somewhere… Ah ha! She pulls out her dark green button-up that Stacie had bought her for her birthday. She changes into it and the one pair of slacks she’d brought for the wedding. She hadn’t been expecting to have dinner at Jesse’s rich ass family’s house, but now she’s really glad she packed a wedding outfit instead of buying one when she got here. Because, if she remembers correctly, Mrs. Swanson likes semi-formal dinners. The first time Jesse had invited her over for one, she’d actually had to borrow nice clothes from him.
She uses the smaller mirror over the dresser to fix her hair, tying the top back, but leaving most of it down and wavy. Then, feeling a little rebellious, she pops one more button on her shirt and leaves the leather bands around her wrists and her rings on. She rolls up the sleeves to her elbows and tucks the shirt in, then slips into her boots instead of the nice, wedding shoes under the dresser.
The bathroom door opens and Chloe steps out, running her fingers through her curls and shaking them out to fall around her shoulders. She’s gone minimum with her makeup, like Beca, just enough liner to make the blue of her eyes pop out more than usual. And she freezes when she sees Beca.
She wonders briefly if she should have gone with the shoes instead of the boots. The look on Chloe’s face is one she hasn’t seen before and she glances down at herself. “What? No good?”
“No,” Chloe jumps in, louder than Beca expected. “No, very good.” Her voice drops to a normal volume and she strides over, reaching out and smoothing her hands down Beca’s stomach, which does some pretty impressive acrobatics inside. “You look…” Chloe smirks, eyes twinkling as she pulls her hands back. “You look good. Got a hot date tonight, Mitchell?”
Stacie’s voice fills her head, telling her Chloe hasn’t dated anyone since they met. Smiling, Beca steps back toward the stairs and holds out a hand, purposely looking Chloe up and down. “Yeah, Beale. Kinda.”
The Bellas have gathered in the front yard. Dana is standing on the front porch and holding her keys out to Fat Amy. “If you wreck my mom van, I’ll get you deported.”
Amy snatches the keys, her silvery dress flashing as she moves backwards down the steps. “Don’t worry. I used to drive the safari truck for tourists and I only ever wrecked once. And that rhino came at me first.”
“Why do we let her be our driver again?” Cynthia Rose rasps, leaning against the side of the van. Beca’s glad to see she isn't the only one not wearing a dress. In fact, the sleeves of Cynthia Rose’s red button-up are also rolled up. Beca admires her black suit vest for a moment. "Dashing" was the word she wanted to use for her.
“None of that, Chocolate Tart!” Amy pulls open the driver’s door. “Get in! We’re off! Short gays in the back, tall gays in the front!”
“That’s us,” Cynthia Rose mutters, motioning for Chloe and Beca to climb in first. Beca lets Chloe go, totally not staring at her legs as she clambers over into the backseat. Once Chloe’s settled, she follows, trying not to get her foot caught in a seatbelt or anything. She twists and drops, sliding over against Chloe so Cynthia Rose has plenty of room to maneuver herself in. Chloe’s hand lands on her back and she tries not to shiver.
Stacie, Emily, and Jessica take the middle seats and Ashley gets shotgun. There’s a jostling and scrambling to get seatbelts on and Fat Amy takes off. In front of her, Beca sees Stacie and Emily bump shoulders and exchange a quick glance. Stacie smiles, Emily looks away. Beca stares at them so hard she thinks she might bore holes in them.
“So, movie night tonight? Right?” Ashley calls back from the front seat.
“Hell yeah!” Cynthia Rose says. “We gotta all just sit down together and relax before we head out.”
“Wait, who’s going where?” Beca asks, hoping she hasn’t missed something, or worse, agreed to something she didn’t mean to.
“Home,” Jessica answers, twisting in her seat. “Work, you know. But we’ll be back this weekend for karaoke and dress shopping!”
The girls start happily talking about the dress that Aubrey had apparently sent them a picture of, gushing about silver lining and what heels would work best for all of them. Stacie shifts and lays her long arm across the back of the seat, behind Emily. Beca watches it carefully.
She’s so intent on catching anything she can use against Stacie later that she doesn’t notice Chloe moving until her hand slides onto Beca’s thigh. She’s talking to Cynthia Rose--something about a suit, Beca can’t hear over the blood rushing in her ears--and her thumb starts stroking mindless circles into Beca’s leg.
Beca forces herself to tune into whatever they’re saying, ignoring the circle she’s pretty sure is being branded into her skin.
“--it was my favorite suit, man. I lost it, like, the week before I moved into the garage.”
“What garage?” Beca keeps her hands folded in her lap, willing herself to ignore Chloe’s touch. She’s failing.
“Chloe’s garage.” Cynthia Rose tips her chin toward Chloe. “I lived there for a year while I was in GA.” Probably seeing Beca’s carefully blank expression, she continues. “Gamblers Anonymous. Mamma let me stay there.”
“Oh.” Beca blinks. “I think Chloe mentioned that, yeah. That’s awesome. How, uh, how are you?”
Cynthia Rose laughs, slinging an arm along the back of the seat. “I’m good. Recovered.”
Stacie, overhearing, leans her head back, long hair falling down the seat back. “You were taking bets on our race at the lake.”
“I give myself one bet every few months, always small.” Cynthia Rose nods resolutely. “Keeps the edge off.”
Chloe’s hand shifts just a little, squeezing lightly. “You’re doing very well, Cynthia Rose. I’m proud of you.” It’s the kind of mindless touching Chloe does with everyone, Beca thinks, sliding her tongue between her teeth and biting down gently. It’s nothing.
“Aww, man, don’t get sappy on me, Red.” Cynthia Rose bumps into Beca, pushing her into Chloe, who giggles and uses the movement to slip her arm around Beca’s back.
It’s not particularly comfortable, leaning back on someone’s arm, but Chloe’s fingers are brushing lightly up and down her side, soothing as much as they’re burning.
“No, really! We’re all so proud. Right, Stacie?” Chloe trails her thumb back down Beca’s waist.
“Supremely,” Stacie says, picking her head up and throwing a wink over her shoulder. “Would you like a reward?”
Cynthia Rose groans, chuckling. “Girl, stop.”
Beca vaguely notes that Emily has turned in her seat, her back to Stacie so she can smile at them. But then Chloe’s trailing fingers dip low enough to trace the hem of her pants and Stacie and Emily are the furthest things from her mind.
She’s pretty sure she blacks out. There’s no other explanation for why they’re suddenly pulling up to the winged gates of a large Georgia manor house and it’s gotten a lot darker outside. But when Chloe shifts, pulling her arm away, Beca sits up straighter, blinking at Cynthia Rose.
She winks at Beca, smiling. Like she knows exactly what just happened. Beca feels her ears burning and looks away.
Fat Amy pulls through the opening gates and up the winding driveway, passing perfectly manicured hedges and a fucking fountain. Beca rolls her eyes. The Swansons really haven’t changed at all.
When Amy parks, there’s a rush to get out of the van. In her haste, though, Beca doesn’t miss Stacie’s hand trailing down Emily’s back as she climbs out.
Jesse’s waiting for them on the steps, in slacks and a soft, gray sweater. “Welcome, Bellas!” As if she’s included in that, he hops down the stairs to meet her and pull her into a bear hug. She grunts, arms stuck awkwardly at her sides. He drops her a moment later to hug Chloe and she rubs her ribs, maybe a little dramatically, but damn, he squeezes. Behind him, the doors open and Aubrey sweeps out of them like queen of the castle, wearing a simple black dress that goes to her ankles. She doesn’t hug Beca, thankfully, but she does wrap Chloe up tightly in her arms and smile over her shoulder at her. Beca smiles back, nodding.
With her is a woman Beca hasn’t seen in years, but she hasn’t changed much. Mrs. Swanson looks exactly like high school graduation, in her perfectly-ironed, off-the-shoulder sweater and her soft, grey slacks. Her hair is perfectly coiffed and her makeup is flawless. She’s lost some weight, but otherwise, she looks just the same.
And she’s locked her sights on Beca.
“Beca Mitchell, get up here and hug me!” She throws her arms out, flapping her hands like she might take off into flight. Beca hurries up the stairs before she can get liftoff. Mrs. Swanson wraps her in a hug nearly as tight as Jesse’s and Beca grits her teeth, giving her a quick pat on the back.
“Hey, Mrs. Swanson.”
“Oh, let me look at you.” She leans back, hands wrapped around Beca’s biceps. She gives her a quick once over. “You’re grown up so much!” Her nose scrunches and she tilts her head. “Well, not ‘up’, per se.”
“That’s nice.” Beca bares her teeth in what she hopes looks like a grin.
“Come now, I’m joking.” Mrs. Swanson gives her another hug. And when she pulls back, Beca takes an extra step away to keep it from happening again. A hand slips into hers.
“Hi, Mrs. Swanson!” Chloe bounces lightly on her toes, gripping Beca’s hand tight. Probably to keep her from running for the van or the woods behind the manor.
“Chloe!” Mrs. Swanson latches onto her, but Chloe doesn’t release Beca’s hand, threading their fingers together. “Oh, my girl! You look beautiful!” There’s a beat when she glances down at their joined hands and her eyes widen. “Are you--?”
“Together,” Chloe finishes, nodding and turning a brilliant smile on Beca, who can’t help but return it.
Mrs. Swanson looks like she’s on the edge of tears, which is a very strange response, Beca thinks. “My darlings, oh. Jesse’s childhood best friend and Aubrey’s best friend? Together? It’s like fate, isn’t it?” It’s Beca she’s addressing, for some reason. So Beca forces her mouth open.
“Uh, yes, ma’am. Something like that.”
Before Mrs. Swanson can go on to what Beca would bet her life was a “Bless your heart” or something similar, Mr. Swanson sweeps out of the house and spots them. “Beca! Chloe!” And for the fourth time in so many minutes, she’s being hugged.
But this time she’s being pressed farther into Chloe’s side, because Mr. Swanson has wrapped them both up in his crazy long arms. She doesn’t mind this hug so much.
“When Jesse said you’d be here, I couldn’t believe it.” His Scottish accent has softened over the years, barely there anymore. He claps a massive hand on Beca’s shoulder. Her spine protests. “How’s your father?”
Great. Happy. Got another kid that he actually likes. “Fine. He got tenure last year.”
“That’s great!” Mr. Swanson grins, his clean-shaven face so similar to Jesse’s, except it’s on a man the size of a grizzly bear. “A--”
“Fillin, let them come inside before you start talking ears off.” Mrs. Swanson says, looping her arm through his.
“Of course, Gabby.” He squeezes Beca’s shoulder once more. She may have an imprint. “Come on in, everyone! Dinner is just about ready. The boys are already here.”
Sure enough, as soon as they’re through the doors, the Trebles swarm them. Uni appears from nowhere and tries to drag Beca off to “shoot hoops out back, dude”, but she waves him off with a promise to play some other time, sticking by Chloe as she looks around.
She remembers their old house in Louisiana being huge, but this dwarfs her memories. The foyer opens onto a grand staircase that twists up into the house around a giant, shimmering chandelier, which is reflected in the swirled black and white marble floors. To their left is a sitting room with sofas she can tell are super soft even from here and a roaring fireplace. A bunch of the Trebles and Bellas have gathered around it, chatting and pointing out paintings and figurines on the mantel. She watches Bumper hold up a bust of someone’s head and Jesse swoops in and snatches it from him.
She’s glad she stayed with Chloe, because Aubrey rushes in a moment later and sweeps the crowd still moving around the foyer. When she spots them in the doorway of the sitting room, she hurries over.
“Tom’s here,” she hisses, putting herself between Chloe and the front door.
Beca watches Chloe’s entire face change. It’s not a noticeable shift to everyone, but Beca isn’t everyone. Chloe’s lips pinch together and her chin lowers just a little. Her forehead furrows just enough to deepen the scar on her brow. “I thought he wasn’t coming.”
“I thought so too.” Aubrey looks like she might rip something off the wall and start wailing on people with it. “He got out of work last minute. And he’s here alone. He just pulled up.”
Chloe’s fingers tighten around Beca’s. But not before Beca feels them shaking. “Okay. That’s fine. I mean, I was hoping to not see him again until the wedding, but.” She shrugs, smiling even though her eyes don’t seem to understand that’s what she’s doing. “Thank you, Bree.” But she sounds a little far away, which is really freaking Beca out, because Chloe’s the most present person she’s ever met. Beca’s the one that fades out and dissociates. She’s tense, nodding at nothing. Gripping Beca’s hand so hard that her fingers are going numb. Mostly, she looks fine. But she feels off.
Aubrey nods once, then looks straight at Beca. One eyebrow lifts and Beca gets it. It’s a question. Aubrey wants to know if she can take care of Chloe. She nods curtly and Aubrey returns it, spinning to go and find Jesse.
The second she’s gone, Beca tugs Chloe further into the room, putting her back to the wall beside a painting of a rain-washed street at night. She recognizes it as New Orleans, but doesn’t look at it much more, instead turning to step into Chloe’s space.
That seems to bring Chloe back and she blinks at Beca. She’s suddenly so glad she wore her boots and Chloe wore low heels, because they’re the same height now. “Hey.”
“Hi,” Chloe says, smiling more widely. “What are you doing?”
Beca shrugs, letting a slow smirk take over her lips. “Pushing my date into a dark corner of the room. I’ll give you two guesses, but you’re only gonna need one.” She pulls her hand from Chloe’s and places it on her hip instead. Chloe sucks in a breath, blinking rapidly as Beca leans in.
“Chlo.” She stops when she’s close enough that she can feel Chloe’s chest brushing her own as she breathes. And as much as she wants to continue their moment back in the loft, she knows there’s something more important to do right now. “You’re not telling me everything about Jesse’s dick cousin.”
Chloe’s eyes fly up from where they’d landed on Beca’s lips. What a fucking time to be a good friend.
“You can talk to me, you know?” Beca backs off a little, stroking her thumb over the warm skin at Chloe’s hip, her finger catching on the fabric of Chloe’s dress. She’s not great at this, but she knows Chloe lives on touch. And the tension is sliding out of her quickly. “I mean, not, like, right now. But whenever. Or...whatever.”
Brilliant. Speech of the year. But before she can really start to hate herself, Chloe’s hand comes up and presses against her stomach. Not pushing her back, just touching. And Chloe smiles. “I know, Becs. And I will. Later.” She takes a deep breath, her chest pushing into Beca’s and reminding her of how close they’re standing. “For now, just know that he was… He didn’t trust me. And he got angry about it a lot. We fought a lot.”
There’s something gnawing at Beca’s ribs, growling and snarling, and she has to ask. “Did he hurt you?”
Chloe’s eyes flicker back and forth between her own. “No. Not like you’re thinking.” Her fingers, still splayed across Beca’s stomach, curl in and grip her shirt. “I’ll explain everything later. I’m fine, really. He just makes me feel a little…” She shrugs. “I just don’t like being around him. And he likes to flirt with me whenever we run into each other. That’s why I wanted someone here.”
Whatever was trying to fight its way out of Beca’s rib cage has backed off, but it’s still prowling around in her gut, hot claws dragging. She slips her hand between them and lays it over Chloe’s where it grips her shirt. “I’ve got you.”
This time Chloe’s smile looks like it always does--like it could split her face if she gets any happier. “I know.”
“Good.” Beca squeezes her hand once, then lets it go. She takes a quick breath. “When I saw him at the grocery store, he said he didn’t think we were together.”
Chloe nods, like she expected that. “I told you. Not very trusting.”
“So what do you want to do?”
Chloe hesitates. Her hand presses back flat against Beca. Slowly, it slides down and Beca tries not to think of breaker boxes and red maples as Chloe hooks one finger through her belt loop and gives a gentle tug. Chloe’s lips turn up and her head tilts. “Be convincing.”