I sometimes believe that I don't belong around people, that I belong to all the leap days that didn't happen.
Beca's oldest memory is sitting on her mother's lap at a piano. It's Christmas and she's three years old, and her mother is playing carols while her grandfather sings along in a rich baritone. There are tiny bells on his ugly Christmas tie and they jingle in time with the sloshing of his eggnog as he sings louder and louder.
Neither of her parents are at all musical—her mother, the doctor, can play the piano well enough for church services and family gatherings, and her father, the doctorate, has a set of bongos from his less respectable college days—but Beca is all of the songs her grandfather carried in him that skipped rhythmically past her parents. She plays the piano by ear until her parents catch wind of her potential as a prodigy and send her for lessons from a concert pianist and to audition for conservatories.
A year of conductor's batons cracking across the back of her knuckles and prodding at her back to correct her posture sours her on music education and she starts skipping lessons. Her grandfather, responsible for taking her to and from the music store because hospitals and universities take up more attention than a fifth grader can hope to garner from her parents, obliges her every time, taking her to concerts and music stores that let her listen to songs and replicate, recreate, rebuild them on the pianos. By the time she's hit high school, she can read music as well as she can play it, and she gets herself sent to detention by the music theory teacher less than a week into the ninth grade for calling him out about incorrectly labeled chord progressions.
After that it's detention and letters home and parent-teacher conferences while she sits sullenly to the side while her overly-wealthy parents blame each other for her behavior. She ignores them all until her grandfather passes away, and even though she's fifteen, she cashes out a chunk of her college savings for a tattoo from a talented but unscrupulous artist. Her mother turns purple at the cricket tattooed on her forearm—"you've got music in you, Beca, just like the crickets. It's a part of who you were born to be."—and screams at Beca's father. The argument devolves into revelations of her father's affair, and no one notices as Beca slips away to her room.
There's no music in her family, nothing but empty gaps of silence between the notes she brings to the table.
After the divorce, she moves with her mother just to avoid her new stepmother. Her father throws money at her, buying her the laptop she asks for, the software, the mixing equipment, the headphones, but she steadfastly ignores him the rest of the time. Her mother is never around, immersing herself in work at the new hospital, and Beca sulks through the rest of high school alone.
Her father informs her one day in April that she's been admitted to his university, which she's intrigued by because she certainly never applied, but just shrugs and walks away from the speakerphone and her parents, tugging her headphones up to cover her ears. It dulls the sound of them calling for her, sniping at each other, no one listening to anyone else. They're disparate, mismatched chords competing for dominance with each other, and it hurts to hear them.
It's not her fault the world sounds better filtered through a set of Seinnheiser headphones.
Barden has nothing to offer but more of the same empty spaces. There isn't even a music department; the closest thing is a university radio station. It's bright and hot in the late summer humidity as she wanders from her new dorm to the quad, and her shirt sticks uncomfortably to the skin of her back.
She's waylaid by a pair of girls hawking flyers for their a cappella group, and it's odd and disconcerting, the way the redhead smiles so brightly. Her voice is a bright as her hair, her smile as open as the disgruntlement on the blonde standing next to her.
Beca continues on her way, leaving them behind. There's another a cappella group along the way, a series of boys with smiles as arrogant as their music is raucous, and she makes a note to avoid all of the a cappella groups for as long as she's forced to stay at Barden.
Her plan of burying her head in the sand—or her headphones and a pillow—goes well until she gets hijacked in the showers by the same bright smile and red hair. Chloe corners her with her perfect posture and charming-but-terrifying smile and blue blue blue eyes—Beca has never once noticed the color of someone's eyes, but they're so blue they might as well be flashing electric neon signs—and there's no room for her to squeeze out of the shower stall, so she succumbs, sinking uncomfortably into Chloe's demand and the song.
They sound good, and it's new and terrifying, as terrifying as the electricity sparkling in Chloe's eyes. Chloe's clear voice floats through the bathroom, ringing like a bell and twining together with Beca's calmer alto, and this is a dormitory bathroom, for God's sake, but they sound incredible together.
For the first time since a cricket was inked into her forearm, some of the empty spaces between the notes are erased, overrun by bright harmonies echoing off of bathroom tiles.
It all breaks when some boy crashes the party, smarmy and arrogant and clearly expecting to get lucky with the both of them, and Beca escapes only with a promise to try out for Chloe's a cappella group.
Being on the Bellas is, on rare occasions, like being around her grandfather again. Aubrey is psychotic, it's true, and their set is horrendously dull, and Stacie is a nymphomaniac, and Lillie is possibly a serial killer, and Amy may as well be from another planet for how she acts sometimes. But there are snippets of time when Beca is with them, casual and unpressured and without Aubrey's intensity bearing down on them, and they talk about music and songs and remixes. Stacie speaks of songs filling the gaps left by the mystery boy who she discovered her love of sex with and who eventually broke her heart; Fat Amy throws in shockingly insightful deconstructions of songs between her jokes; Lillie beatboxes underneath Aubrey's arrangement when she thinks no one can hear, melding seamlessly with the rest of the music.
Chloe talks about music with a vibrancy that Beca has never witnessed. She speaks about it with her whole body, cheer and joy and passion seeping out of her like brilliant major chords, and Beca drowns in it every single time.
Beca's mixes are different after every conversation with Chloe. She pulls from sources she normally never would, effervescence leaking into the constructions in the form of major keys. By the time they're leaving to compete, just hours before she'll wind up in jail, of all places, she has an iPod full of girl-power mixes that all sound vaguely like Chloe.
Months later, though, she's off the Bellas and not even Chloe can make her stay. She transfers ever mix she's made in the past months that rings with light and joy like Chloe's voice into a single folder on her desktop, and books a plane ticket to Los Angeles before starting on a new mix.
Life always sounded richer in a minor key, anyways.
Her new mixes get more play than any of her others before. She starts staking out a table in the corner of the library, searching and researching and finding anyone who might be willing to give her work a chance. The radio station offers her a prime-time show next fall, and she hedges around the answer.
By the time she gets a text from Chloe asking her to come to a rehearsal for Nationals, she's already got a dozen music bloggers emailing her about the first mixtape she made with coppery red and neon blue in mind, the one built on Adele's mournful piano and Noah Gundersen's shadowy rasp that tears at her fraying edges every time she listens to it.
Sometime between building beauty out of nothing in an empty swimming pool with the Bellas and creating an arrangement with Aubrey for Nationals, Beca is cornered by Chloe and a flash drive in her hand.
She has a request, she chips brightly, for an advanced music theory course she's doing online, and she wants to see if Beca can build a mix around lyrics as easily as she does chord progression. The flash drive holds a set of songs and a text document with the relevant lyrics highlighted, and Beca would rather try that than go to class—even if Chloe's charisma still hurts to think about even in passing—so she agrees.
Not that she'd ever had much of a choice in turning Chloe down when the word please slipped out of her mouth and her eyes went even wider than normal, but Beca chooses to ignore that notion.
She decides to work on it later, because her stomach twist and teeth ache when she sees a handsome frat boy picking Chloe up from rehearsal and catching her when she leaps at him, a tangle of slender limbs and red hair. Sleep escapes her, though, and at 1:30 she's at her computer, sifting through Chloe's flashdrive. Tired eyes narrow against the glare of the monitor in the dark room as melancholy and regret wash through the headphones. Chloe is power pop and ladyjams, but this compilation is full of acoustic guitars and piano chords and dark, resigned vocals. The lyrics push into Beca's chest, rooting there and making her shift uncomfortably as she starts isolating the segments Chloe's requested.
God damn girl, your wounds are beautiful
It only takes ten minutes of skipping through the songs to understand that whatever this assignment is, it's going to be far darker than even the darkest mixes Beca had ever made.
Did you want my presence or need my help?
Kimmy Jin rolls over in her sleep sometime around 2:45, grumbling and snuffling into her pillow, but Beca is oblivious, an empty Red Bull can at her elbow and Neko Case's voice echoing in the spaces where the instruments used to ring.
Sing me to sleep tonight, I wanna hear you say it's all gonna be alright
No memory tonight, I wanna hold you but it's just too late now
Someone runs up and down the hall way a half hour after that, drunk and shouting, and trips and falls into the wall by their door. Beca flinches momentarily at the sound shooting in past her headphones, but only spares enough time to glare at the door briefly.
We'd set fire to the third bar
We'd share each other like an island
The alarm clock on the other side of the room goes off at six. Kimmy Jin has an eight AM class, and she makes a disgruntled noise at the fact that Beca is sitting at her computer, three empty Red Bulls at her side.
You're the train that crashed my heart
Beca's philosophy class is at 9:30, and she's supposed to meet Aubrey at noon for a brainstorming session, but she ignores the texted reminders from the other girl and skips her class.
This is not a call to arms, it's a chance to hold on tight
Kimmy Jin returns from her third class and sneers as Beca puts the finishing touches on the mix.
It was never clear what would come, but that's the risk and that's the test
It's probably the most horrifyingly earnest thing she's ever created, even if she's just the one cobbling it together, and nausea rises in her stomach at the thought of some idiot professor for an online class trying to critique it, to understand it, the parse through the rich piano and broken guitar, the swells of hurt and apology and resignation rolling through the vocals.
She has just enough time to burn it to an extra CD and take a shower before she's late to meet with Aubrey.
She doesn't give Chloe the CD, because Chloe shows up to rehearsal with the same frat boy in tow and he kisses her goodbye. Beca shoves the CD deeper into her bag, grinding her teeth against the distaste souring her mouth.
Beca keeps the CD until the week after Nationals, and only gives up because Chloe corners her as she's leaving the library with a smirk playing at her lips because she's managed to land a meeting with a DJ in Los Angeles a month after she's set to move out there.
"Did you get a chance to work on that mix?" Chloe's question serves as a greeting, stopping Beca in her tracks abruptly. She turns slowly to face Chloe, who for once is unreadable save for her arms crossing defensively over her chest.
"Yeah, sorry," Beca mutters dismissively. "Here." She digs it out of her bag and tosses it to Chloe. "That was a weird assignment, you know. I had to track down a bunch of covers and live versions in different keys to fit it all together."
"I never doubted that you could do it," Chloe says. She turns the CD over in her hands reverently, fingertips tracing the edges, and Beca fidgets, her own fingers toying with the cord on her headphones.
"I have to—" Beca's words cut off abruptly when Chloe offers the CD back to her. "What?"
"Here," Chloe says, simple and quiet. "There was no assignment."
"What?" Beca's aware of how stupid she sounds, but she's too confused to care. Annoyance crowds through, pushing confusion to the edges of her awareness. "Chloe, do you know how long it took to—"
"Yes, of course," Chloe says irritably. "Probably at least as long as it took for me to find the songs in the first place."
"Okay, I'm confused," Beca says, hands held out in front of her. "Explain."
Chloe huffs indignantly, one foot even stomping the tiniest bit, and a smile quirks at the edges of Beca's mouth unintentionally. "You're an idiot, Beca Mitchell!"
The smile slips off of Beca's face, and she stands up straighter, even if she'll never come close to Chloe when the taller girl is wearing heels. "Okay, seriously, I don't have time for this."
"It was for you," Chloe says, deflating, and Beca can't do anything but blink at her.
Chloe laughs, hollow and quiet. "You do this—I don't know what it is, but the mixes you make, even when the words don't do it, the music tells a story. They're happy or sad or angry or hurt. You never talk about your feelings, so I thought I'd try to get on your wavelength, even if I don't have you capabilities.
"You asked me to make a mix for…myself," Beca says slowly. "From you."
Chloe flushes, looking down at her boots. "It seemed like the best option at the time," she says, shrugging. "You'd never let me outright apologize for not sticking up for you, or explain how I feel or what I want."
"But the songs—what about that guy, the frat douche—"
"Adam is fully aware that he and I don't have a future. We were never intended to. He was company, because you are monopolizing my best friend's time."
Beca stares at her, hands dangling at her side. Chloe fidgets, fingers fiddling with each other to take up the silence spreading between them.
"Say something," Chloe says softly.
"Are you gay?" It's the last thought in her head but somehow the first to escape her mouth, and Beca's eyes widen, hand clapping over her mouth. "I'm sorry, that was—I shouldn't have… I'm sorry!"
Chloe chuckles, looking more like the bright girl who sucked Beca into the Bellas than she had in ages. "Sometimes, a little bit," she says coyly, and winks at Beca. "Are you?"
Beca flushes, clearing her throat. "I—maybe? I don't know, it was never really an issue before?"
"Okay." Chloe nods. "So would it be okay if I, maybe…" She steps forward, crowding into Beca's personal space, fingers twining into the edges of the button down fluttering over top of Beca's tank top. Beca inhales sharply, biting down on her lip and fighting the urge to lean back to look up at Chloe.
"Yeah," she breathes out instead, voice weak and girlish and so very unlike her. Chloe smiles, bright and brilliant, and nods once before tugging Beca closer by the shirt and kissing her, brief and heavy and echoing like a major ninth. When Beca comes up for air for a brief moment, her fingers are gripping at Chloe's waist and Chloe is smirking at her before diving back in, licking her way into Beca's mouth in a manner far too indecent for the library steps.
"Wait, wait, hold up." Beca breaks away abruptly, breathing heavily and flushing even more at the disgruntled noise the escapes Chloe. "How do you know what any of my mixes sound like? I've never played them for you."
Chloe rolls her eyes. "You left your computer up once when we were studying, when you went to get coffee. They're in a folder called My Mixes on your desktop. I copied them onto a flashdrive."
"Do you even know what the word boundaries means?"
"Not at all," Chloe mumbles, leaning in to kiss her again. "You like it, don't even lie."
She kisses Beca before any protest makes it out to be heard, and Beca lets it go, sinking into Chloe's embrace.
Life might sound richer in a minor key, but Chloe's open optimism and effervescence and cheer fill in all the spaces between the notes that Beca's been trying to fill since she knew what music notes were. When Chloe's fingers skim down along her arms to find her hands and her thumb skids over the cricket tattoo there, Beca shivers and presses closer, eyes shut and ears ringing in a major key.