Well. That’s another thing to put on Beca’s (used to be very short) list of things that turn her on. She may never wear her shirt buttoned up again, because Chloe’s hands pushing the sides apart to glide over her bare skin?
Okay, wow, not the time. Beca physically shakes herself at the back door, bouncing on her heels. She stretches down and grabs her toes, pulling until her calves burn. She used to do this before every game back during softball season. It hurts more now than it used to. Maybe she should start working out again.
She snorts at the thought and straightens up. Not happening. Chloe’s the one that jogs and does yoga in the living room. Beca’s the one that naps in the armchair and sneaks full cakes into her room late at night.
The back door opens before she can grab the handle and Mickey steps out. She sidesteps so he doesn’t run into her.
“Shit, sorry,” he mutters, tugging at his jacket and backing away from her.
“No prob, dude.” Beca eyes his long sleeves. “You alright?”
“Yeah, yeah, no.” He nods, flashing a quick smile that is eerily reminiscent of Chloe. She kind of hates it. “Is Chloe in the garage?” She nods and he nods back, turning to hop down the stairs. She watches him cross the yard, wondering if she should go warn Chloe. But she decides to give them a minute. Chloe hasn’t gotten a chance to tell her how this morning went, so who knows? Maybe they’re doing better now.
But if Chloe doesn’t come up to the house within a few minutes, she’s going to go get her.
The Bellas are gathered in the kitchen and Fat Amy loops an arm around her neck to pull her into their circle. “Shawshank! Missed me?”
“Who are you again?”
Amy grins and squeezes her a little too hard. “I’m keeping this one,” she announces to the others and Beca ducks out from under her arm, laughing.
Cynthia Rose holds up a sheet of paper with their names on it and a list of places. “Mamma’s assigned us these places to check out. So I think we should split it up, take different cars and meet up later--”
“Half of the people we’d be going to talk to are already here,” Stacie interjects. “The second Mamma sent up the bat signal, they came pouring in. We need to talk to the volunteers--”
Jessica shakes her head. “The police will already have hit a few of these places, won’t they? You said that’s what they’re doing, Stacie--”
“But we might be able to get more from them.”
“Yeah, we know Aubrey!” Emily nods along, glancing at Stacie.
Ashley takes the list from Cynthia Rose. “Bree wouldn’t even go to half of these places. We could just knock some out now.”
“I’m not going to the fish market,” Amy says, looking over Ashley’s shoulder. “That weird guy in the corner, with the one eye, he proposes to me every time I go. We don’t have time for that.”
“Yo, okay!” Beca snatches the list from Ashley and holds it up, stepping into the middle of the circle. The other girls blink down at her. “Okay, look. Emily’s right.” Emily practically bounces in place, grinning wildly at her. “You guys know Aubrey best. You know the places on here that Aubrey would never go. So you’ll know it’s weird if Aubrey did go there.” A few of them nod, catching on. “So we need to check everywhere. No...stone unturned or whatever. Right?” They’re all nodding now.
The back door opens and Chloe steps in, halting when she sees them. There's a brief pause while she stares at them, then she’s hurrying into the center of the circle with Beca and holding up her phone. “She’s alive.”
Confused and elated, the other girls all start speaking at once, asking how she knows, asking if she knows more. And it’s a bit too much sound all at once for Beca. It makes her want to twitch and shake her head and cover her ears until it stops. But that's not something normal people do. Instead, she holds up a hand, hoping to maybe chill one or two of them out.
To her surprise, they all fall silent immediately and Chloe flashes her a grin. Beca awkwardly tucks her hand down into her pocket. That was super weird.
Chloe holds out her phone to Stacie, who reads it and passes it on to Emily immediately, smiling. “BFL.”
“BFL,” Chloe agrees, nodding. “It’s from an unknown number. She must not have had time to send anything else.” Beca hasn’t a clue what’s happening. But everyone is smiling now.
Stacie’s nodding rapidly, eyes on the ceiling. “Okay, okay, so. She sends something quick, something she knows you’ll understand, to let you know she’s alive.”
“And we can give this to the police and maybe they can trace it or something?”
“Wait, wait.” Beca glances down at the text as Ashley and Jessica look at it. “What is ‘BFL’?”
“Bellas For Life,” they all chorus, nearly making her jump out of her socks.
“Right,” she says, pushing the word through her teeth. “I totally knew that.”
“So, whoever is holding her--” Chloe says, glancing around the circle.
“They messed up.” Jessica’s grinning now too, like everyone else, and Beca finds herself joining in, even though she’s confused. “They left her with a phone.”
“Right.” Chloe nods vigorously. “I didn’t text back, just in case. She obviously didn’t have much time--”
“Or she would have told us where she is, right?” Emily blurts out. She’s shaking like a chihuahua with a guest in the house and Beca reaches out to grip her forearms, hoping she doesn’t start vibrating across the floor or something.
Cynthia Rose holds up her hands, shaking her head. “Okay, but wait. So she’s definitely been kidnapped? Is that what we’re saying?”
“Yes!” Chloe says.
“Then why are we all grinning?” Beca glances around, feeling a little like the only doctor in the insane asylum. But her cheeks are starting to hurt with how hard she’s smiling, so maybe she’s insane too. Either way, Chloe is grinning at her and her hands are soft when she cups Beca’s cheeks.
“Because she’s alive,” Chloe says. “And we’re going to find her. Come on!”
It’s vastly different from the shaken Chloe that had climbed out of the car earlier and run to her mother. This Chloe strides onto the porch with purpose, peering around until she spots the cop car pulling up near the mailbox.
Chloe breaks into a jog and Beca huffs, but follows. To her left, Amy mutters something about “fucking cardio”.
It’s Officers Calamity and Serenity that climb from the vehicle, both looking a little surprised at everyone gathered on the lawn. There’s less cars and people now, so Beca assumes some groups have already headed out to search. Jesse’s dick cousin is there, though, and he’s moving toward them as Chloe reaches the officers.
“Officer Calamity,” Chloe says, stopping right in front of her.
Officer Calamity blinks, leaning back. “Um. Miss Beale?”
“We have something.” She passes her phone over. “We were just about to call you.”
The officer stares down at the phone, frowning. “What is this?”
“It stands for Bellas For Life,” Stacie says, crossing her arms. “Bellas is our a capella group from college. Us.” She motions to the others that have joined them. “It’s Aubrey.”
Beca understands why the officers look so skeptical. A few days ago, she also would have written this off as a keyboard smash that they were assigning too much meaning to. But after watching them together, seeing the way they move and speak in harmony, she’s pretty sure Aubrey could have sent a single letter and these girls would have known exactly what it meant. “You can track this number, right?” Beca steps up, crossing her arms. “See who it belongs to or whatever?”
The officers hesitate, but then Officer Serenity nods. “Sure. We can look into it.”
Officer Calamity pulls out her notebook to write the number down. Chloe's hand lands on Beca's back and trails down, it then up. Comforting others is how Chloe comforts herself sometimes. Beca knows that, so she stays still, letting Chloe trace her spine over and over. She only moves when Tom steps up next to them. Out of the corner of her eye, she sees his hand reach out for Chloe. Anger twists hot in her stomach and she steps back, putting herself between them, and wraps her arm around Chloe’s waist, looking up at her. “You okay, babe?”
The surprise flickers across Chloe’s face so fast that Beca knows she’s the only one that catches it. Then Chloe is smiling, her hand stopping right between Beca’s shoulder blades, warm and heavy. “Yeah,” she whispers, her fingers tensing against Beca’s back just enough to be felt.
Officer Calamity is handing the phone back to Chloe when Jesse comes flying through the group, skidding to a stop in a hail of dirt and dust. “Wait, wait, stop, everyone stop.” He holds up his phone and puts it on speaker. “How much?”
“50,000,” a deep, distorted voice says and Officer Calamity’s finger shoots to her lips. Everyone near them falls silent and the silence spreads out over the yard rapidly. “Tomorrow night. No cops. No FBI. Nonconsecutive bills. No dye bags. No tricks or she dies.”
Jesse’s breathing hard, but he stops completely at that. Chloe’s nails dig into Beca’s back.
“We’ll call you tomorrow with a location.” There’s a click and that’s it.
Officer Calamity snatches the phone from Jesse’s hand and starts reading out the number to Officer Serenity. “Get on that,” she snaps and Officer Serenity ducks back into the cruiser. “Mr. Swanson, we’ll need to talk to you.”
“You can use the house,” Mamma says. Beca’s not sure when she got there, but her hand lands on the back of Beca’s neck. It's a move she remembers her own mother making, usually when they were in a crowd and she didn't want to lose Beca. “Anything you need.”
Officer Calamity nods, then flicks a hand around the yard. “Get this lot cleared out. We’d like to speak with just immediate family for now. Including your parents, Mr. Swanson.”
“Yes, ma’am.” He hurries off, to find them, Beca assumes, and Mamma sweeps around and lays into the crowd like a hurricane. A very polite, very grateful hurricane, but she has people evacuating immediately.
“So, do you believe us now?” Cynthia Rose says, motioning to Chloe’s phone.
Officer Calamity has the decency to smile apologetically. “We’ll get the information on the number that texted you ASAP, ma’am. Until then, I’d like all of you ladies to stick around as well.”
“Duh,” Stacie says, looping her arms around Emily and Jessica. “You said immediate family.”
Beca drops onto the bench swing as they watch the volunteers leave from the covered porch, the screen door propped open. Mamma has herded the girls and the Swansons inside with the police and it’s just her and Chloe on the porch now.
She presses the heels of her boots down and sends the swing rocking. Chloe’s wandered over to the rickety old poker table in the corner, running her fingers over the faded felt. She pushes and it tilts on one too-short leg.
Beca waves back to Lew as he climbs into his truck. “Well, this was useless.”
Chloe stops, looking up. “What was?”
“All these people coming out.” She jerks her chin at all the cars maneuvering around each other and filing down the driveway.
“It wasn’t useless.” Chloe takes a couple steps and twists on her toes, dropping onto the swing beside Beca. It upsets the rhythm she had going and the swing tilts out of alignment for a moment until Chloe gets her legs under them and steadies it.
Beca’s boots scrape across the porch. “They didn’t do anything.” She looks at Chloe.
The sun’s high above them and the porch is cool and shadowed. The swing chains squeak every time they rock back. Chloe’s smiling softly. She’s beautiful and Beca kind of can’t help but stare. And then she’s turning to look at her, blue eyes alight. Her shoulders lift and she tucks her chin down into the one closest to Beca. “They showed up.”
And that’s it, right there. The thing that had made Chloe stand out from the others Stacie had tried to introduce her to when she decided Beca needed “more people in her miserable life”. Chloe simply loves, with only the bare minimum motivation to do so.
Beca knows she’s not the most likable. She’s awkward and snarky and sometimes downright rude to people. She’s better now, but back when they’d met, she could hardly stand to be in the same room with someone as bright as Chloe. But Chloe had a knack for making her feel like, just maybe, she was kind of bright too. Even when Beca had been nothing but a ball of anxious energy just looking for the closest exit, Chloe had made her feel important. Like she was doing well. Like she could do even better, if she tried a little.
So she had. She’d started to give a damn about someone besides herself. She'd packed everything up from the little apartment she’d been living in since she moved to New York and trekked it across town to their place. She’d gotten her favorite pair of comfy jeans covered in lavender paint as they redid the bathroom and just rolled her eyes when Chloe pointed it out. She’d sat on the kitchen island and watched the guy install the stained glass window with only a few sarcastic quips about it. And she’d let Chloe closer and closer.
Because it wasn’t as easy for her as it was for Chloe, but Beca had wanted to love too.
She’s pretty sure she does now. So she leans back and slings her arm along the back of the bench, letting Chloe tuck into her side. And she presses a kiss to Chloe’s hair and soaks up the little hum Chloe gives her back.