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Stained Glass

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When the Bellas were backstage for their very first ICCA that they ended up winning, Chloe had felt like she was invincible. She’d been surrounded by the girls she loved most in the world, perfectly sore from all their practices, and just filled to the brim with music. She’d known they were going to win before they even stepped on stage.

She feels the same way now, sitting in the living room, sandwiched between Cynthia Rose and Emily. Even though they’re all waiting to be questioned by police--after they’re done with the Swansons--she isn’t nervous at all. They’re going to find Aubrey. She’s going to have the best wedding. And Chloe is going to kiss Beca like there’s no tomorrow.

Speaking of which.

Beca is across the room, seated on the raised brick of the hearth, back to the cold fire logs. Eli is beside her and they’re signing back and forth. He had showed up in the living room just after the cops came in, looking a little nervous. And before Chloe could do more than smooth his hair down, Beca had hooked an arm around his neck and dragged him off to talk about softball. She’d given Chloe a wink then that’s still sitting warm in her belly as she watches them talk.

They’re going to win.

There’s a ruckus at the front door and Aunt Dana slips inside. “FBI is here.” She hurries past, into the kitchen where the police have set up while they talk to the Swansons. A moment later, she returns with Mamma. “Now, listen, Cory. Don’t offer them tea or cookies or whatever. They’re here to work.”

“I know, D,” Mamma huffs, smacking her. Aunt Dana laughs.

Everyone stands as the front door opens and Mamma ushers in a tall blonde woman in an immaculate suit.

“Hello,” the woman says, her German accent a little subdued. “I am Special Agent Anderson. This is Special Agent Callis.” She motions to the dark-skinned woman behind her, who kind of looks like she could bench press Agent Anderson. “We were told you wanted to set up here?”

“Yes,” Aunt Dana says, pulling Mamma aside so that more FBI agents can make their way inside, carrying black cases. “In the kitchen. Just through there.”

Agent Anderson nods and they follow the line of agents out of the room. Just as they’re leaving, Chloe hears Mamma and Dana.

“Can I get any of you tea or anything?”


“Chloe Beale.” Agent Callis’ voice is monotone, low. Almost bored. She stands with her hands clasped in front of her, a plain black bag hanging from them. “Is there somewhere we can talk?”

Chloe looks up from Beca’s palm, where’s she’s been absently tracing her name for the last half hour. The second Cynthia Rose had distracted Eli by talking about some new video game, Chloe had taken his spot next to Beca. The brick hearth isn’t exactly comfortable, but Beca’s leaned forward, one elbow propped on her knee, one hand lying in Chloe’s lap. Barely five minutes after Chloe had claimed it and begun tracing the lines in her palm, Beca had zoned out. Her eyes are only half open and she’s been staring at one of the legs of the coffee table for a while now, but when Agent Callis speaks, she sits up, completely alert.

“Um,” Chloe pushes herself up, keeping Beca’s hand in hers. “Out front?”

Agent Callis simply nods, motioning for Chloe to go first. She squeezes Beca’s hand once before letting it go. Beca folds it in against her stomach and nods, one eyebrow lifting. Chloe slips her a quick smile.

The porch is hot now, the afternoon sun dipping down into it and filling the wicker chairs. She takes one at the old poker table and Agent Callis sits across from her, unbuttoning her suit jacket before lowering herself into the seat. She places her bag on the table. Chloe’s not sure she likes her very much. Her dark, tightly curled hair is pinned back from her face and Chloe can see every deep cut frown line. She looks mean, plain and simple.

“Do you mind if I record this?” Chloe shakes her head and Agent Callis pulls her phone out and clicks around for a second, then lays it on the table. She watches the little pulsating circle as Agent Callis starts speaking. “How long have you known Miss Posen?”

Chloe doesn’t have to think about it. These are the kind of things she just knows. “Five and half years, about.”

“How would you describe your relationship?”

“We’re best friends.” She thinks of Aubrey sitting at the foot of the giant Christmas tree Uncle Lew had set up in the Beale house their freshman year. It was only the second year Chloe’s father hadn’t done it and Aubrey’s dad had canceled their plans last minute. So she’d invited Aubrey home and Mamma had put her in charge of doling out presents.

Aubrey had cried when she pulled out a pile of presents labelled to her from Mamma, Aunt Dana, and Gran.

“Mm,” Agent Callis nodded, face unchanging. “And how long have you known Mr. Swanson?”

“Five and a half years. He started at Barden at the same time as us. We all auditioned for the a capella groups together.”

“Right. Mr. Swanson mentioned. But he met Miss Posen the year before that, correct?”

Chloe nods, smiling. “Their dojos met at a judo tournament up north. She threw him clear out of the ring and when he tried to get her number, she threatened to do it again.” She could swear Agent Callis’ lips twitch up at that. “Then he showed up at Barden. Destiny.”

The poker table rocks as Agent Callis crosses her arms on it. “Sounds like a fairy tale start,” she says dryly. “What about after that? How would you describe their relationship?”

“Perfect,” Chloe says without missing a beat. “Inspirational. Totes goals. I can never tell which one of them loves the other one most.”

“They never had any problems?”

“They had the usual spats people have. Whose turn to do the dishes, why won’t you eat healthier, that kinda stuff. But, no. I can’t think of a single big issue they’ve ever had.” She shrugs. “Like I said, goals.”

Agent Callis grunts somewhere deep in her throat. “Is it possible Miss Posen just didn’t tell you about issues they might have had?”

“Aubrey tells me everything.” Frankly, she’s offended the woman would even suggest otherwise.

“I see.” Agent Callis reaches into her bag and pulls out an Ipad, placing it between them. “So she told you about the open-ended ticket to Belgium that she bought last week?”

“What?” It’s like missing a step going downstairs. Her breath catches and every hair on her body feels like it stands on end. Her hands flutter to the table top, the smooth felt warm under her palms.

“Miss Posen purchased one open-ended ticket to Belgium. She was set to leave two weeks after returning from her honeymoon with Mr. Swanson.”

No. Aubrey would have told her something that big. And why would she go to Belgium? Her father is stationed in Italy. “There’s--that’s--it has to be a mistake!”

Agent Callis spins the Ipad around on the table and pushes it over, pressing a button on the side. There it is, in Aubrey’s name, a transaction receipt for one open-ended ticket to Belgium. Chloe grabs the Ipad, zooming in. That’s the last four numbers of Aubrey’s credit card. Agent Callis just watches her. “So, Miss Beale. Are you sure Miss Posen tells you everything?”

Agent Callis escorts her back into the house and the Bellas are waiting. As soon as the agent leaves the room, they’re there, asking if she’s okay, asking what happened. But Chloe can’t seem to focus on their questions.

Why would Aubrey be going to Belgium? Why wouldn’t she tell Chloe? They tell each other everything. And Chloe assumes the police have already talked to Jesse about this. They’ve had him in the kitchen since they arrived. So does Jesse not know?

“Chlo.” Stacie’s hands are on her shoulders, squeezing. “Hey, are you okay?”

She blinks around at the other girls, all looking at her like maybe they expect her to pass out. She frowns, realizing who’s missing. “Where’s Beca?”

“The German lady took her,” Cynthia Rose says, jerking her chin toward the kitchen. “Right after Mean Mug took you.”

“What about Jesse?” Chloe takes a deep breath, trying to release some of the tightness in her chest. “Have you seen him?”

Emily hums, rocking back on her heels. “Still in the kitchen, I think.”

Before they can say anything else, Chloe ducks out of the circle, brushing away Stacie’s hands. She strides straight into the kitchen and stops in the doorway.

Jesse’s standing at the island, his hands clasped behind his head, eyes focused somewhere above the fridge. Mr. and Mrs. Swanson are across from him with Mamma, speaking in low voices. Aunt Dana is at the kitchen table with the FBI agents, watching them set up a case of equipment. Chloe stares at it for a moment, wondering what it could be for, but then Jesse spots her and hurries over.

“Can I talk to you?” she says, folding her arms and pressing them into the churning in her gut.

Agent Callis catches his arm. “Actually, Mr. Swanson should remain here for now. We still have a lot to cover. Can you talk here?”

Chloe glances at Jesse. His hair is sticking up in clumps and he looks so tired. He shrugs, shaking his head. “I guess so.” Agent Callis releases Jesse, but doesn’t move away, just turns her back, giving them the illusion of privacy. Chloe exhales through her nose, stepping closer to him. “Jesse, did you know about Belgium?”

“No.” His hands flutter up to his hair again and she worries he’s going to start ripping it out soon. “No, she never mentioned. What was she going to Belgium for?”

“I don’t know. She didn’t tell me about it.”

“She didn’t tell you?” His level of disbelief is pretty close to her own.

She shakes her head and his face falls, crumpling in on itself. “Does she know anyone there?”

“No! I don’t know…” He cups his hands over his mouth and sighs into them. She thinks he might be shaking, but he’s shifting from foot to foot too fast to be sure. “I don’t know, Chloe.” It’s almost a whine. She reaches out and catches his elbows.

“Hey. It’s okay. We’re gonna figure this out. We’re gonna find her. Okay?” It’s weaker than it was earlier, but her certainty is still there and she presses it into his arms, squeezing tight. They're going to win.

Jesse’s always been so sure. Once, after a huge Treble party, he’d drunkenly told Chloe he was going to marry Aubrey. She hadn’t even agreed to date him yet. He'd stood on the steps of the old Bella house and loudly declared that he was in love with Aubrey and he knew she loved him too. He'd started introducing her as his "last girlfriend ever" by their second date. And now, even with this ticket to Belgium, Aubrey missing, and Jesse so obviously stressed, he nods steadily. The ground is roiling, but he’s still standing. Sure as ever. “Okay.”