Chloe ends up taking a quick shower. When she emerges from the bathroom, it’s to Aubrey in the desk chair, wearing Beca’s purple headphones and nodding along as Beca leans back against the headboard, tapping out a beat on her Maschine.
She stops and leans her hip against the door frame, rubbing her curls with a towel, just watching them.
“So, you can make any kind of noise on that thing?” Aubrey asks, lifting one of the cups from her ear.
Beca’s nose twitches up like it does when she doesn’t quite know how to answer a question. “Sort of? I mean, probably not any kind. I couldn’t recreate Jesse’s weird screech singing on it, for example.”
“Oh, so you’ve heard it too? He likes to do it in the shower. I’ve left the house before.”
“He performed during a pep rally once.” Beca shakes her head, laughing. “Our school had this weird rivalry between the grades. And our class was particularly against the seniors that year, for whatever reason. So he sang the Alma Mater, then at the end, turned to the seniors and just started screeching and pointing at them all.”
“It’s not a sound a human should make.”
“Dude.” Beca agrees, her head rocking back, her eyes widening for a second. Then, like a magnet, her gaze pulls up and locks on Chloe’s. It’s something she’s been doing a lot tonight and it’s squeezing something deep in Chloe’s gut.
Because Beca had almost kissed her by the van. She knows it. And maybe Beca just sensed how tense Chloe had been all night. Maybe she had seen Tom over Chloe’s shoulder. Maybe she was just trying to do what Chloe had told her to--be convincing. But Chloe is having a hard time caring why Beca did it, just that she hadn’t been able to follow through.
Chloe’s always liked Jesse, but he totes wasn’t her favorite tonight.
Aubrey, though. Aubrey was always one of Chloe’s favorites. She was the first person Chloe texted when big things happened to her. When she got into vet school, when she got the job at the shelter, when she found her first apartment in New York. When she’d met Beca.
She’d spent so many nights up late, planning for the Bellas with just Aubrey and a cranky old laptop perched on top of an even crankier piano in the rehearsal room. They’d talked about their bright futures and love and the Bellas like that was all there was. Together, they’d chosen the other girls that became their family. When Aubrey’s dad didn’t return phone calls for days, when Mickey left town, they had each other.
Beca had very quickly become one of Chloe’s favorites too, even if she’d fought it for a while. Chloe would pass a test and text Aubrey, then call Mamma, then text the Bellas’ group chat, then call Beca. Beca would congratulate her in her awkward, stilted way she does when she’s not sure her input matters, then quickly make an excuse about work and hang up. Chloe would meet an adorable dog at work and send a pic to Aubrey and Mamma, then the Bellas, then to Beca, who would send back responses like, “Nice.” or “Cute, dude.” It had been so little, but Chloe kind of loved those little things. She loved it even more when those things became texts like, “Dude, that dog looks like Bob Ross. Why’d you do that to his hair?” or phone conversations that consisted of, “Highest grade in class again! Did you tell that nerd guy that freaked out about his B last time to suck it? No? Well, gimme his number.”
Now, here they are. Beca and Aubrey, sitting together and talking about music (Chloe’s other favorite). It fills every corner of her to the brim with what feels like sunshine through fall leaves--bright and red and orange and blinding. And like most things that make Chloe feel that happy, she lets it take her. It carries her onto the bed and wraps her arms around Beca, tucking her face down into Beca’s neck so she can breathe her in.
“Chloe, are you okay?” Aubrey asks, her hand rubbing up Chloe’s back. She knows it’s Aubrey’s because Beca’s hands are on Chloe’s arms, lightly gripping.
“Yeah,” Chloe says into Beca’s shoulder. She reaches blindly for Aubrey’s hand, catching it on her first swipe. Or maybe Aubrey catches hers. “I just love you guys. I’m glad you’re friends now.”
“Eh,” they both say, protests jumping from their lips.
“I don’t know about friends, really--”
“I mean, we just met, dude, and--”
“Nope.” Chloe silences them, lifting her head to press her cheek to Beca’s, who grumbles. “You’re friends. Best friends.”
“Oh, come on--”
“Chloe, you can’t just make us--”
She hops up to her knees, bouncing down the bed. She still has Aubrey’s hand and her entire body jerks along with Chloe’s bounces, but she doesn’t pull away. “Beca! Go get changed! It’s Bella movie night!”
Beca obliges, still grumbling about “pushy redheads” and “more ‘fast friends’ crap”.
Chloe kind of loves her a lot.
“You know,” Amy says from the armchair. “I really think you guys should have asked Jesse before having a ménage à trois with his soon-to-be ball and chain. Just saying.”
Aubrey rolls her eyes, perching daintily beside Cynthia Rose on the love seat. Stacie, Jessica, and Ashley are rolled up in blankets and sleeping bags on the floor, while Emily sits alone at one end of the couch. Stacie’s leaning back against her legs and Chloe sees Beca pause to stare at them for a moment before placing her hand on Stacie’s head and climbing directly over her, up onto the couch. She puts her arms out, wobbling her way to the opposite end and dropping into the waiting pile of blankets. With her still damp hair, oversized t-shirt falling off one shoulder, and her sweatpants so long they cover her feet, it’s really one of the cutest things Chloe’s ever seen. She, much more politely, steps over Stacie and drops between Beca and Emily on the couch.
“About time,” Cynthia Rose gripes, pushing herself up to grab the remote. She’s wearing her light blue, matching puppy pajamas and Chloe’s heart feels tight for a second. It’s just like college nights in the Bella house.
Eli bounces into the room, leading Mamma, and goes, “Hup!” right before he flips over the back of the couch and lands across Chloe’s lap. “Hi!” he gasps breathlessly, his feet landing on Emily’s leg. She grabs for them, tickling, and he flinches away, laughing.
“Slugger,” Beca says, reaching out of her blankets to muss his hair. “You watching with us?”
“No way, dude!” Chloe isn’t sure she’s ever heard him say “dude” before. “Y’all are gonna watch something scary! And I’ve got school.” He rolls his eyes.
Mamma reaches over the back of the couch to smack him right between his rolling eyes. “Young man, watch the eye rolls. Now say goodnight.”
“Goodnight!” he cheers loudly, rolling off Chloe’s lap to tumble around the room, hugging all of them before jetting up the stairs with more energy than Chloe can remember having at his age. Or any age.
“Let me get a picture, before I go,” Mamma says, moving around the coffee table to stand in front of the TV. She pulls out her phone, squinting at the screen. “Almost all of my Bellas together again. One of you can ShopPhoto Lilly and Flo in or something.” No one corrects her.
Beca fidgets, like she’s trying to climb out of the blanket nest she’s tangled herself in, and Chloe grabs her arm, pulling her back down. “Where are you going?”
“It’s--It’s a Bellas photo, dude. I’m just going right there.” She gestures vaguely to the part of the room not in the shot.
“Oh, shove it.” Fat Amy flaps a hand at them. “You did a riff off with us. You’re like an honorary Bella. Right, Captain?”
Aubrey nods sagely, laying an arm over Cynthia Rose’s shoulders. “It’s true. Please, Beca. Stay.”
Ashley tilts her head back, smiling. “Besides that, you’re with Chloe. You’re one of us.”
Beca’s wide eyes flit from Ashley to Chloe and she can see the hesitation still there. So she tugs her hard enough to drag her back, into Chloe’s side. “Yeah, Mitchell,” she whispers into her ear. “You’re with me.” She really hopes she doesn’t imagine the shudder that races down Beca’s spine.
But Beca stays, letting Chloe wrap her arms around her. And Chloe, knowing how Beca likes to take pictures (stone-faced), waits until Mamma hits the count of two, then turns her head and presses a feather-light kiss against the shell of Beca’s ear at the same time as she digs her fingers into Beca’s hip--her only known ticklish spot. Beca laughs, curling up to protect herself just as Mamma takes the picture.
“Oh my goodness,” Mamma breathes, smiling down at her phone. “I’m putting this one on the mantelpiece. You girls have a good night.” Mamma makes the rounds, giving each of the Bellas a kiss on the forehead. Beca’s eyes flutter closed for just an instant when Mamma gives her a kiss too, but Chloe doesn’t point it out.
“So, scary movie, huh?” Beca says as Mamma disappear upstairs and Chloe suspects she’s trying to draw attention away from her red ears. “I expected--”
“Don’t say rom-com,” Chloe cuts her off, tucking her legs up under her. “We’re not rom-com people. As a group anyways.”
“I was going to say cartoons.”
“That’s rude, Shawshank.” Fat Amy kicks up the feet of the armchair, narrowly missing Ashley. “We’re an intellectual gaggle of gals. Right, Tits McGee?”
“Right!” Stacie nods, raising an imaginary glass.
Cynthia Rose chooses something from Netflix and Ashley hops up to turn off the lights.
They barely make it through the first scene before Chloe is urging Beca to shift around so she can slip between her and the couch back. Beca, not a fan of movies and looking a little sleepy, complies easily. They end up stretched across their two allotted cushions--Beca on her back, her head propped against the arm of the couch and one of Mamma’s floral throw pillows, and Chloe tucked under her arm, head resting on Beca’s shoulder, her feet squished behind Emily to keep them warm.
She tugs the blanket further under her chin and lets her hand drift down to rest lightly on Beca’s stomach. Beca doesn’t react, staring blankly at the TV. Chloe has no doubt she hasn’t taken in a single thing.
Which isn’t to say she has, because she absolutely hasn’t. It’s hard to focus on whether or not the girl in the movie’s boyfriend is cheating on her when the light from the TV is pooling in Beca’s collarbone right in front of Chloe’s eyes.
Beca’s t-shirt collar was dragged lower when they shifted, leaving bare the stretch from her ear to the very edge of her shoulder cap. The end of the cotton is pressed against Chloe’s cheek, just higher than her lips, and she wonders what it would be like to lift her head just enough for skin to meet skin. To just take that leap. Would Beca be as soft as she looks? Would those dancing lights on her skin taste like caramel too?
Her gaze wanders up the slant of Beca’s neck, pausing in the shadows beneath her jawline. And Chloe’s never really been a fan of the dark. People call her “all sunshine and rainbows” and they’re not wrong. But this darkness calls to her.
It’s the first time the killer shows up onscreen, standing silently in the background while the lead characters argue about whatever thing one of them said, when Beca’s hand finds hers under the blanket.
It’s just a brush of skin, just the tip of her thumb sliding over Chloe’s knuckle as Beca rests her hand on her stomach too, but Chloe feels it all the way to her shoulder. Beca’s already moved away, but Chloe follows, hooking her pinky around Beca’s forefinger. And just like that, everything narrows to their hands.
Chloe closes her eyes as the pad of Beca’s thumb traces her pinky nail, slips under her ring finger. And Chloe touches back, flipping Beca’s hand over to find the grooves in her palm, trailing down them to the tensing muscles in her wrist. Slowly, so slowly, she follows veins she can’t see up Beca’s forearm, into the dip of her elbow, and she opens her eyes.
Beca’s are closed, her head tilted away from the TV. But she’s definitely awake, because her hand closes around Chloe’s forearm, not stopping her, just holding on. So Chloe continues her journey up Beca’s arm, fingers spreading out to trace patterns into soft skin until she’s dipping into cotton and pushing it aside to find more of Beca to touch. Beca’s sleeve bunches at Chloe’s wrist as she walks her fingers over the curve of a shoulder, then slips right over the strap of Beca’s sports bra and into the drop of her collarbone.
She doesn’t move, but Beca’s nostrils flare as the TV paints and strips her face of flashing blues and greens. It thrills her that Beca hasn’t stopped her. Excites her. Terrifies her.
This doesn’t feel like less.
It’s impossible to tell how long she spends just walking her fingers back and forth in the valley of Beca’s collarbone, but when her nails drag along Beca’s skin, moving closer to the hollow of her throat, Beca’s mouth opens just enough to let out a quiet exhale, like she’d been holding it in. And it’s nearly silent, but Chloe hears it like her favorite song on the radio--she knows every note of it and the second it ends, she wants it repeated. So she gives in to that urge that’s been pulling at her since they laid down and shifts her chin up just enough that she can brush her lips against Beca’s bared shoulder.
There’s an inhale this time, but Beca stays still. In fact, she’s so still that it’s like she didn’t even notice. Like she didn’t feel that tiny rush of skin over skin like a freight truck hitting her, the way Chloe did. Like maybe she’s asleep. But her other hand, the one that’s been resting between Chloe and the couch, is too tense for her to be out. Beca sinks into sleep like melting chocolate. There’s no way she’s asleep.
It occurs to her then that maybe Beca thinks it was an accident. Maybe she’s giving Chloe a chance to pull back and pretend it didn’t happen. Maybe, like Chloe, she’s scared.
And Chloe thinks of taking it back. Of pretending to be asleep herself. It would be believable. Beca knows she’s touchy in her sleep. She could write it off as an accident. Just shifting to get comfortable.
But this really doesn’t feel like less. So Chloe turns her head and presses a firmer kiss to the farthest reach of Beca’s collarbone. There’s no mistaking it for anything other than what it is this time and the reaction is instantaneous.
Beca’s hand on her back moves, sliding up her spine and into her curls with a deftness that she wasn’t expecting, and strong fingers press just slightly into her scalp. Encouraging.
Every inch of Chloe’s skin is warm suddenly and she’s barely aware enough of the room around them to stop the moan that sits behind her teeth as she presses another kiss right beside the first.
They both jump when there’s a knock on the door and half the room breaks out in screams.
“Bitch, I knew you were scared,” Cynthia Rose hisses at Amy, who definitely screamed the loudest and longest.
Beca’s hand retreats from her hair, pressing into the couch back so she can crane her head around to look at the front door. Chloe retracts her hand from Beca’s sleeve and uses the other woman’s stomach to anchor herself up. “Who is it?” she calls. No answer.
“Oh, hell no,” Stacie mutters, pushing to her feet. “No answer totally means serial killer, right?”
“Everyone calm down.” Aubrey, (almost) always the levelheaded leader, stands and moves around the couch toward the door. “It’s probably just Dana or the Trebles or...the wrong house, maybe?”
Emily whines a little, her long legs pulled up to her chest. “But, like, what if it is a serial killer?” Aubrey’s steps slow just a bit.
“Then we’ve got them outnumbered, dude.” Beca shuffles out from under Chloe and rolls to her feet. Chloe follows, tugging the sleeves of her shirt down over her hands. Together, Chloe, Beca, and Aubrey move to the front door.
Aubrey flips on the porch light and Beca peers out the window beside the door. “Is that Lew?”
Chloe takes a deep breath, almost sure she hears everyone else do the same, and turns the deadbolt. She pulls the door open enough that Beca could launch herself out of it if she wanted to. (Because, really, if they’re being attacked, that will be the first thing that happens. Beca’s scrappy.) She swings her head around the door, hoping she’s not about to lose it. “Hello?”
The man on the porch spins around, arms lifting and falling with the force of his turn. Chloe gasps. He grins. “Chloe!”