Emily likes to think that she stays in touch with the graduated Bellas pretty well during the first weeks of summer.
Last week, she'd Skyped with Jessica and Ashley all the way in Paris, stopped on their graduation tour through Europe, and had basically laughed herself stupid the entire time. The pair of them had been so drunk that they'd knocked the laptop on the floor during a frantic search for a missing glowstick, and instead of picking it up again, the two girls had huddled together on the carpet, dissolving into giggles, all the while whispering into the camera for Emily to 'shh,' so that their hotel neighbors wouldn't hear.
Three days ago, Stacie had called energetically babbling about a five-hour layover in Atlanta, in between visiting with her parents for the summer, and Emily had rushed to promise that she'd drive an hour out of town to have lunch with her at the airport. Stacie had told her that she was – and Emily actually quotes, here – "the bomb dot com with a smokin' hot ass." Emily hadn't actually known what to do with that, but she'd blushed so hard she could practically feel her ears glowing, anyway, and quickly deflected, murmuring a bit of gossip that she'd probably heard on the E! Network the night before.
Emily tries not to think about it, but her TV somehow seems to land on that channel a lot more often than it used to – which makes Emily try even harder not to think that maybe it's for times like these, when Stacie says something inappropriate that makes Emily feel like maybe she's envious of the older Bella's confidence, or like maybe she just thinks that Stacie wears it disturbingly well.
Still, Emily's awkward conversation-skills aside, she'd spoken with Stacie just a few days ago.
And just yesterday, she'd texted briefly with Beca about the paperwork for their demo, and Emily had emotionally exploded via text, thanking Beca for everything – for giving Emily the Bellas, for finishing Emily's song, for caring enough to do any of that for Emily, in the first place – and the former Captain had called Emily exactly twenty-three seconds later, panting and demanding to know if Emily was alright. Emily had blinked several times before replying, stunned by Beca's quick and urgent reaction, and she'd puffed out half a dozen frantic apologies in a row before she'd heard the white-noise thump of something like a bassline, travelling blurrily through Beca's microphone and bursting out through Emily's speakers with a ferocity that made her jump.
Then, Emily had very unexpectedly begun to sob.
Emily's been spending some time with Benji, since the other Bellas had left Barden, so she isn't exactly alone, but- things are sort of weird between them. They'd kissed, that one time, and it had been fine, but Emily hadn't felt that spark. She hasn't kissed many people, but, as sweet as Benji is, kissing him hadn't made her feel- anything, really, and it wasn't something that she really wanted to do again.
Benji had felt the same, though, and he'd stammered that confession out at Emily like only an honest boy could do, the very next time that they saw each other. They're still friends, she still likes being with Benji, they still hang out and enjoy the time they spend together, but it would quickly grow awkward for both of them if she ever stayed in his room past dark.
And, some days, when Emily walks over from the Treble house and unlocks the front door, stepping into an empty house, her heart does this funny little thing that Emily's never really felt before; it stutters, and it's suddenly hard for her to breathe, and Emily has to take a second to wonder if this is what it feels like for a heart to break.
And it isn't even so much the emptiness that gets her, but the stillness of the air. The way that it doesn't vibrate. The way that music doesn't welcome her at the door and lure Emily inside like the promise of pajamas and hot chocolate on the snowiest day of the year.
The entire house used to sing, every second of the day.
Every morning, literally without fail, Denise would shamelessly – and a little bit hoarsely, but no one ever complained – belt out the lyrics to any Celine Dion song she knows, even through a sputter of shampoo suds, and even in spite of the 'really?' smirk that Beca traditionally throws at her when they swap out for the shower.
At lunchtime, Fat Amy practiced something called 'Secret Victorian Dancing' to the sounds of a graceful violin – and Emily had watched the Tasmanian's one-woman rehearsal only once, with wide eyes for all of thirty seconds, before she'd clapped her hands over her whole face to block the image in front of her and decided this was probably the reason every other Bella made plans to eat lunch on campus, during the week.
(Emily had made the mistake of asking Beca what the hell Amy had even been trying to do, but Beca had snorted, and replied, "It's Victoria's real secret, Legacy; didn't you know? I'm sure Amy could teach you." And Chloe had giggled and playfully slapped the back of her palm against Beca's arm, all while Emily had scrunched her nose and hissed out, "Gross!")
For two hours, every afternoon, Stacie pumps techno music through the game room and follows some kind of jazzercise or yoga or Pilates, or some mixture of the three, before migrating over to the sleek, silver stripper pole installed in the corner of the room.
The first time Emily had seen it, she'd wondered if maybe it was somehow part of the building's architecture, like maybe it was keeping the roof from collapsing in on them or something, but Stacie had smirked, winked, and divulged, "Birthday present two years ago. The girls thought I'd like it, bless their hearts. Wanna see what I can do, Legacy?" She'd grinned, and Emily had felt so much heat in her cheeks she'd thought she could probably have exploded, and the tiny bits of her flesh would probably still be flushed with color.
In the evenings, Chloe would study at the kitchen table and sing softly along to her newest musical obsession, and Emily would bop her head along while she made herself a snack and wonder how Chloe always seemed to get a hold of these mashups before they ever air on the radio. She'd asked, once, and Chloe had beamed up at her with such obvious pride that Emily had even felt proud of herself for asking about it, to begin with, and Emily had learned that day that Beca creates music outside of acapella, too.
Brilliant music. Wonderful music. Heart-stopping, breathtaking, reduces-you-to-tears-and-laughter-all-at-once kind of music.
Music that Emily quickly became familiar with, because, during the nights, Beca's iTunes playlist would whisper soft, quiet music from the attic all the way down the stairs, and Beca never actually would – it was only ever Beca's music that echoed through the house, never her own voice – but most nights Emily felt strangely like their Captain was singing them off to sleep, and the thought always made her smile.
It's kind of creepy, now, though – the way that nothing makes a sound when Emily is all alone.
Except that sometimes something creaks, somewhere deep in the bellies of the house where Emily should definitely be too old to be afraid to look, and Emily tightens her fingers over the edges of her blanket and tries not to think about why Beca so uncharacteristically insists that their basement is haunted.
Emily is by herself for the summer, doing something stupidly productive like taking a Calculus course over an accelerated six-week period instead of letting it drag out an entire semester long, but- something about music and Beca and being alone in the Bellas' house with no other Bellas in sight makes Emily feel emotional.
She breaks, and sobs, and Beca fumbles over herself in a desperately confused effort to offer questionably comforting words, but Emily laughs wetly, anyway, and swears that Beca is the sweetest person alive, even if she'd never actually have the courage to say as much to Beca.
Still, that had only been yesterday, and Emily can't imagine why Beca or any of the other Bellas wouldn't have mentioned… this.
Because this is Christmas in July.
Emily had woken up to find her entire bedroom dripping with red and green tinsel, and she has no idea how it got there, but Emily is a little worried about the fact that she grins at how pretty and fun it all is before she stops to wonder who had been in her room while she'd been sleeping. She'd wandered down the hall with a lava lamp clutched in her hand for defense, the tail of the electrical cord following her steps and shuffling loudly around the corners before she snatched it up with a furious glare, and then- Chloe.
Chloe, in the kitchen, decked out in green with pointed shoes and a pointed hat with jangly bells around her wrists and neck and a single one perched atop the toes of each of her feet.
She is a bonafide Christmas elf, standing on top of their rickety kitchen table and stringing lights through tiny hooks in the ceiling, and when Emily rubs her eyes in disbelief, Chloe only grins wider and declares, "Merry Christmas, Ems!"
"Christmas?" Emily stares at her incredulously. "It's six-thirty in the morning on a Saturday in July!"
"Exactly!" Chloe laughs delightedly. "It's Christmas in July! Come here, come help me with the lights," Chloe demands, flapping her palm to encourage Emily forward.
Emily isn't exactly sure why – probably because she's already decided that the Bellas are basically ninety-nine percent crazy, ninety-nine percent of the time, and part of her thinks she shouldn't really even be surprised, anyway – but Emily stumbles forward and climbs up onto the entirely-not-safe table almost as soon as Chloe asks.
"Christmas in July? That's a real thing?" Emily frowns. "I mean," she amends, rolling her eyes at herself and huffing softly, "I know it's a saying kind of thing, but- it's a thing people actually do?"
Chloe's eyes drop from the ceiling above to meet Emily's with the utmost solemnity, and Chloe replies stoically, "It's a thing the Bellas do."
And that's basically it. Emily's on board. Because of course she should have known about Christmas in July, and of course she should have known it's a thing. It's a Bella thing, and Emily is happy to participate in every Bella tradition that the girls are willing to teach her.
Only, Emily thinks maybe she's been tricked.
She's spent all morning helping Chloe decorate the staircase, and hang lights around the edges of the pool table, and she'd even clipped several sprigs of mistletoe above a couple of the doorways, but no one else has shown up except the UPS delivery guy, dropping off a care package from Emily's mom.
It isn't until two that someone else enters the house, and Emily's heart skips a little in pleasant surprise.
"I'm up for a drink and some quality time with my best bitches," she hears Stacie call out from the front door. "And I brought booze," Stacie tells them, dropping a hefty black bag on the coffee table while its contents rattle together inside. "Don't just stand there, cutie," Stacie winks at Emily and smirks. "Think you can dig up some shot glasses? Or a Solo cup," Stacie shrugs and coyly glances downward, watching as her index finger trails smoothly across the line of her own shoulder, bared by a deep purple tanktop. "I'm flexible," she purrs playfully, and Emily–
She just can't, with Stacie.
It's uncomfortable, how easily the older brunette can make her blush and squirm, and sometimes Emily even thinks about outright avoiding her, but she can never make herself do it. The thing is, Emily feels oddly- distracted, by Stacie, and she can't avoid her, even when she does manage to try.
Emily likes watching the way that she moves, purposefully and sensually and with such fluidity, all at once, radiating with all of the confidence that Emily never knows what to do with. She likes hearing Stacie sing, and she likes the slightly deeper, rougher edge she sings with when she forgets to put the training Aubrey must have drilled into her as a freshman to use. Emily likes her hazel-grey eyes, and the way that they light up almost-blue when Stacie is drunk and happy and hugging Beca's struggling face tight against her chest.
Emily likes Stacie, but sometimes- sometimes Emily thinks maybe that she likes Stacie a little too much. And she doesn't know what that means, or how far it goes, and she doesn't have even a vague idea of anything she'd like to do about it, but it's there, sometimes, in the back of Emily's head, and it begs for something that Emily doesn't even know, yet.
"Shot glasses. Sure. Right. Yeah," she babbles and nods frantically, hurrying to the kitchen for a moment to get her aca-shit together before she has to face the older Bella again.
It takes a few minutes, but when Chloe begins to sing, "Winter Wonderland" and Stacie joins her, Emily's emotions scramble to catch up, because there is music in the house, again, and she refuses to miss out on that.
She climbs on top of the counter to reach over the top of the fridge, and her fingers grasp blindly until they curl victoriously around a bag full of red plastic cups. She hurriedly yanks them downward and falls, very ungracefully, flat on her butt when she hears another voice merge among the other two, and it really couldn't be anyone else but Beca; Emily recognizes the soft alto voice – could probably recognize it anywhere, by now, because Beca's voice is amazing and inspiring and sometimes it gives Emily chills all over – but, even if she couldn't, the seamless addition of "Here Comes Santa Claus" has Beca Mitchell written all over it.
And Emily has to be there, so she scrabbles to gather the bag of cups in her grasp – thankfully undamaged by the fall – and hurries back to the living room, where the singing fades and Beca's smirk just starts to widen, just a foot from Chloe's face, and Chloe beams and beams and beams at her until Beca finally caves and speaks first.
"You are actually ridiculous," she tells Chloe with a defeated huff of laughter.
"What are you talking about?" Chloe scoffs instantly, and reaches out her hands, grasping easily at Beca's, and Emily wonders – not for the first time – how Chloe had earned special Beca-touching privileges when none of the other Bellas ever really had. "I'm adorbs."
"That's not a thing," Beca rolls her eyes. "And, even if it was, you'd still be ridiculous."
"Where's your Christmas spirit, Becs?" Chloe pouts dramatically, and Emily feels Stacie sidle up at her side, relieving Emily of the Solo cups to tear a couple free from the package.
"Probably trapped in December," the DJ replies dryly, and Chloe laughs at her and pulls against Beca's fingers until the former Captain falls into Chloe's waiting hug, "because it isn't. Christmas," Beca mumbles grouchily into Chloe's collar, and Emily giggles, even though it makes Beca scowl.
"Is too," Chloe argues, but there's no logic; just a wide, wide smile that presses into Beca's hair when Chloe closes her eyes and breathes Beca in, soft and deep and slow, and a little bit like something- intimate. Something that Emily thinks maybe she shouldn't even have the right to observe. "Besides," Chloe sighs out warmly, and moves her arms like quicksand, pulling Beca even further in, every time she tries to shuffle out of Chloe's grasp, "I bet you brought me a present," the redhead bites her lip, expectant and eager, and obviously trying her very hardest not to be expecting anything at all, and Emily giggles all over again.
"That's not– Of course I got you a present, Chloe," Beca says exasperatedly, like she's had this conversation a dozen times over, and like she can't keep herself from arguing, even though she knows she can't ever win. "It's your birthday."
Emily thought it was Christmas.
Well, actually, Emily hadn't thought that today was anything all that special in the first place, but, apparently, it's some kind of celebratory holiday that involves some sort of gift exchange.
(The details are still a little murky.)
Chloe and Beca do this a lot – share half-conversations that somehow make sense, to them, when most of the sentences they exchange don't even have endings. It's like there's always a little bit of the you-had-to-be-there thing, with them; they just have their own special way of communicating, and maybe sometimes it's a little bit frustrating, but, most times, Emily just thinks it's a little bit beautiful.
"Yup," Chloe agrees, smacking her lips together to end the word with a pop. "It is my birthday, and I can have anything I want. And I want it to be Christmas, Becs."
Stacie shoves a drink into Emily's palm, then, and Emily startles a little, accidentally sloshing the two inches worth of liquid at the bottom until its waves crash against the walls of the cup. Stacie claps the plastic edge of her own against it, once Emily has a secure grip around it, and leans forward to murmur teasingly into the younger Bella's ear, "I think it's just the four of us, and, well– you know how Beca and Chloe get, all tangled up in the music and each other… Guess that just leaves us, huh, Em?"
"Um… what?" Emily breathes with a confused shake of her head. "I thought this was a Bella tradition… Why wouldn't the others come, too?"
"Is that what she told you?" Stacie grins, revealing a line of perfectly straight, perfectly white teeth, glimmering brightly like there's a secret trapped somewhere behind them.
"Yes…?" Emily replies warily and frowns.
"This isn't a thing," Stacie laughs and shakes her head. "Chloe wants it to be a thing, but we've voted it out four years in a row, and if you've ever seen her actually gear up for Christmas, then you understand why. I know you were still pretty new, back at Christmas, but I'm sure you remember it, too. She spends weeks baking cookies and pies, her Christmas dinner is nothing short of extravagant, and, frankly, my figure just can't handle that shit twice a year; it is way too fine to be spoiled with baked goodies that often, don't you think?"
Emily laughs awkwardly and tries to shrug, but it takes a second to realize that those hazel-grey eyes are watching her, still – waiting. Waiting for a real, actual reply, Emily thinks, which is a real, actual problem.
A big problem.
Because, honestly, Emily doesn't even know what she thinks of Stacie's body, other than that she is obviously very fit, and, objectively, she's a generally attractive girl.
Except, that's sort of a lie, because Stacie isn't generally anything; she's sort of- more. She's too much, sometimes, actually. She's just so alive, and her personality is so big, and, yeah, okay, Emily can admit it, at least to herself – Stacie's body is pretty much out of this aca-loving world and from another galaxy, altogether.
Everything might center back to sex, for Stacie, but she's more than that, too, and Emily doesn't really see how that's a bad thing, anyway, as long as she's safe.
Sex is supposed to feel good. Emily probably isn't the best person to ask about that, considering it's an activity she's never really participated in, but she knows it's supposed to feel good. And why does it matter if Stacie likes to let herself feel good?
It doesn't. Not really.
Except that it basically makes Emily feel like something inside of her is ripping at the very core, because it isn't exactly that Stacie lets herself feel good, it's more that Stacie finds someone to make her feel good, and something in that just doesn't sit well, with Emily.
Emily knows what it is. She knows the feeling. It's the same way she'd felt in the fourth grade, when Grady Summers had sent his special Valentine to Bethany Wilcox, who sat next to Emily in class; it's the same sad, green feeling she'd felt when she'd wished he'd sent it to her, instead, and the idea that she feels that kind of jealousy over a phantom, faceless figure just for touching Stacie's body at some vague (though probably recent) point in the past is absurd, but it's true, anyway.
"It, um…" Emily stammers, and tries to produce a few words that are maybe less embarrassing, too. "Yeah. Fine. You're- fine," she breathes.
And that's safe, right? Repetition is good. Repetition is her friend. Stacie said her body is fine, and Emily agrees – end of.
Except that it isn't.
"Really, though," Stacie peers through hooded lashes and blinks over at Emily, a soft sparkle in her eye, but a genuinely tender smile spreading slowly across her mouth. "Do you think so?"
"I – " And Emily tries to remain neutral. Tries not to give herself away. Tries not to invoke her Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate herself, but there is something earnest and curious in Stacie's look, and Emily starts being honest before she can even think to stop herself. "Yeah. I mean, yeah," she laughs a little too loudly, and shimmies her shoulders in a shrug that emerges more like a quiver than anything else. "Who wouldn't?" She offers with an awkward, scoffing huff of a chuckle. "You're hot, for sure," and her discomfort is obvious, but Stacie just keeps smiling at her.
Until, all at once, it's not a smile, anymore, but a smirk, and Emily wonders what the aca-hell she'd just stepped into.
"I'm glad you think so," Stacie trails her tongue across the stretch of her lower lip, and Emily's eyes helplessly follow along, until they dart frantically toward Stacie's as the older Bella shuffles further into Emily's side, her chest pressing into Emily's arm, "because I've been using this body to catch your attention for a very long time, little Bella, and I was beginning to think you hadn't even noticed," Stacie pouts theatrically, and lifts two fingers to stroke down the length of Emily's burning cheek.
"I, um… Oh. That's– oh."
"Aw," Stacie coos with an affection tug of her fingers through Emily's dark, straight hair. "You're so cute when you're all flustered. Are you always like this?" Stacie tilts her head curiously to the side, and Emily has to take a second just to understand what she's even talking about, because all of this feels overwhelming to a seriously ridiculous degree.
"Like- like what?" Emily breathes shakily and cringes, but Stacie only shakes her head and smiles, slow and sweet and hauntingly real, in a way that Emily's never seen before.
"Sweet. Innocent," Stacie purrs from somewhere so low in her chest that Emily can feel it hum against her arm. "Responsive."
"I – " Emily blinks and shakes her head, in a rough (and woefully unsuccessful) attempt to clear the fog descending over her rationality. "I'm not sure?" She laughs bemusedly. "Um… I just– I'm sorry."
"Oh, pretty thing, don't apologize," Stacie insists with a dark, rumbling chuckle. "I'm going to adore every second of it."
And Emily has no idea what she means, but she throws back her shot with a kind of desperation she isn't very familiar with, and her body feels unbearably warm, but Stacie chuckles again and follows Emily's lead.
In the morning, Emily doesn't remember how she'd gotten to her bedroom; she remembers Chloe drunkenly pressing Beca into the archway between the living room and kitchen, trapping the tiny brunette beneath the sprig of mistletoe above and fusing their lips so tightly together that Emily remembers vaguely wondering if they'd even remember how it feels to be apart, anyway; she remembers Stacie's chest flattening behind her own shoulder blades, and she remembers the way that Stacie's mouth had cleanly swept along the length of her neck, breathing filthy whispers into Emily's pulse until she'd quivered, and Stacie had wrapped her arms snugly around Emily's waist just to keep her knees from giving out.
Emily doesn't remember the trip to her bedroom, but she remembers everything that had happened after.
Or, everything that hadn't happened after.
Stacie had been primed, her lips swollen and her hair all kinds of gorgeously tangled, and Emily had taken a good handful of seconds just to marvel at how she had done that, but it doesn't last long.
The older Bella's fingers had swept just briefly along the clasp on Emily's jeans, and Emily had stiffened instinctively, without even a thought, and closed her eyes shut tight in the hopes that Stacie wouldn't notice, or wouldn't care.
But Stacie had noticed, and, almost irritatingly – at least at the time – Stacie had also cared.
The perfectly leggy brunette hovering overtop of Emily had stilled instantly, her hazel-grey eyes so big and wide and embarrassed that Emily had reached down to cradle her cheeks, just to clarify. Just to be sure that Stacie knows she hadn't taken advantage.
At least, not of Emily's drunkenness.
But, Jesus, this girl has taken advantage of everything else. She's taken advantage of the way Emily watches her, and she's taken advantage of the want she sees creeping through the dark places in Emily's deep, brown eyes. Stacie has taken advantage of the way Emily reacts to her, arching, bending, grasping on tight just to hold Stacie against her, somehow, and to keep her close.
She's taken advantage of all of those things, but Emily would be lying is she said she hadn't wanted her to.
Still, her instincts have probably served her pretty well, because, honestly, no matter how hot Stacie might actually be, Emily probably would be upset with herself if she lost her virginity to a couple of shots of tequila and a weird not-Christmas-birthday in July.
"It's okay," Emily promises on a whisper. "I mean, I don't want to– Not tonight," she scrambles to add, and feels the blush swarming to life in her cheeks. "But I'm not, you know, going to break, or anything. I'm good. If you're good," she tacks on hurriedly. "Are you- are you good, Stace?" She ventures cautiously and frowns, and Stacie presses two, tender kisses just above Emily's heart before she slowly inches upward, and falls to the side.
Emily frowns, but Stacie only smiles and tucks herself beneath the younger Bella's blankets. When Emily finally takes the hint and joins her, Stacie pushes softly at her hip until Emily follows the wordless instruction, curling to the side with her back to Stacie's front, and Emily is confused, but everything puzzles itself out a moment later.
Stacie's chest presses firmly, comfortably, safely into Emily's back, and the older Bella's arm winds itself around Emily's waist until Stacie's palm presses flat against her stomach and pushes, just a little, like Stacie is adding a little bit of weight just to remind Emily that she is there.
"I'm perfect, Em," Stacie sighs out finally, quiet and content, and shifts around just enough to press her hips and her legs more fully into Emily's own, until Emily can feel her everywhere.
Emily still isn't sure what they'd even been celebrating, but she remembers feeling secure, and so very, very warm, and she remembers Stacie's mouth brushing fondly across the back of her neck, like a tiny little promise, so Emily's going to call July 25th a win.
… And maybe make it an official Bella holiday, no matter how hard Beca scowls.
Author's Note: Swear on my life, this was meant to be Bechloe, through and through. I didn't even know I shipped Stemily, so- that's a thing. What d'you think?