A/N: Final part of TSTRF! A HUGE thanks to everyone who stuck around and shout-out to the anon who requested this! Who would have thought that such a simple prompt could get this far? Feel free to comment/review, it's always greatly appreciated! You are all aca-classy and I wish you all a very merry Christmas Xx

[Part 8]

- Ultimately, this is what graduation is all about; looking back on the memories you made along the way and getting ready to create the next. And most importantly, make them count.

Graduation is approaching so fast they barely have time to take it all in. The day before the decisive date, Chloe and Aubrey go back to the rehearsal room to grab all their things and clean up the place before the summer holidays.

And boy is that place a mess. Sweatshirts, stray running shoes, a mountain of empty water bottles and a barely decipherable writing board. Those are all mementos of the countless hours they spent in here, rehearsing and working until exhaustion.

They're walking slowly as if they're afraid to ruin the sanctity of the room. It feels eerie to know they're not coming back and that their memories will linger somewhere around those bleachers. Chloe picks up a few water bottles, empty soda cans and chocolate bars stashed under a chair. Oh Fat Amy... she sighs.

Aubrey is standing hands on her hips in front of the white board, staring contemplatively at her extensive scribbled schedules and red-marked comments. As Chloe nears her best friend, she says, "We made it Brey… This is it." It comes across as more depressing than she intended. Like a fatality.

"It's so cliché to say this but it feels like yesterday…" is all her friend replies.

"…that we met at the activities fair, landed right in front of the Bellas' recruiting kiosk and signed up together? Yeah. Who knew it would have ever led us here…"

Aubrey picks up her notepad, the one on which she wrote detailed accounts of the meetings, song and choreography brainstorms, ruthless comments about former Bellas' performances. "It's like a journal," she says as she thumbs at the pages. "Remember Patty Johnson?"

"The one with the webbed toes?"

"The one with the webbed toes," Aubrey confirms, smiling. "I wonder what happened to her."

"After that comment you made on her parents probably being inbred and her toes being the reason why she could not dance worth a damn? I wouldn't be surprised if she hasn't approached a choir ever since…"

"I did say that…" Aubrey muses out loud. "I've been horrible."

"You've said some stuff yeah. Like how Beca's attitude sucked and she was a grade-A pain in your ass."

The blonde shakes her head, unwilling to discuss her mixed feelings for the girl and get into a debate on the legitimacy of her past actions in the group. She's talking to Chloe; she cannot win.

Instead, she grabs her Bellas pitch pipe on the desk next to the board. "Guess it's hers now."

Chloe shrugs. "If she wants it."

"Please, she'll take it just to piss me off."

"She's not like that!"

"I know," Aubrey sighs. "I was just—I was just kidding... So what are you going to do about Tom?"

The redhead clicks her tongue. She has to admit that the boy has not crossed her mind lately. Truth be told, since Beca's mix, little else has been preoccupying her. "Ugh, nothing I guess. Besides, he's seeing another girl anyway!"

"You mean, at the same time?! That dirty piece of—"

"No, it's okay! We're not a couple, Aubrey. We never were."

As sincere as her words are, they leave a bitter taste in her mouth. Beca and her were never a couple either but somehow, she felt that they were connected. She had felt it ever since their first duet in the shower. The way their voices had collided so perfectly, eyes refusing to falter as the last note still rang within the ceramic walls. The way her gaze kept gravitating around the other woman's smooth flesh without being told off. There had been signs yes, and maybe with a very big pair of special goggles, some would say that there was definitely something there. That would explain why Chloe loathed herself after each time she let Tom take control. Perhaps he possessed her body for a few minutes, but her heart was out of reach. He could never have it. Truth be told, Chloe isn't really sure her heart is entirely hers anymore.

When the rational side of the brain takes over, all of the nonsense people fret about and lose sleep over seems childish. Problems deflate and torments subside. Yet, how is it that people almost always appear to revel in despair, embrace the chaos in their minds and crave pain? Chloe has no clue. But she tries to push her thoughts aside for once. After all, graduation is hours away and soon, everything will turn into vague and distant memories of the good laughs and the first heartbreaks of the college experience.

They're in their dorms, getting ready for the ceremony that is scheduled for 7 o'clock tonight. Aubrey has barely eaten anything for supper to guarantee that chunks would not be flying all over the first row. Chloe is fixing her make-up in the bathroom while Aubrey paces in the room, muttering to herself. Worrying over a speech to this point is unhealthy; Aubrey has been repeating it over and over all day. She could say it in her sleep.

"Aubrey?" she calls. The girl doesn't answer. She comes out to find her lying on her bed, her arms stretched out wide. "Are you...okay?"

She sits up, looking up at Chloe with watery eyes. "Are your parents coming?"

"No, they're on vacation in the Bahamas," the redhead answers regretfully. "Yours?"

"Well since I haven't spoken to my dad in forever, my guess would be no. And my mom said she would've come if only she didn't need to take care of him at home."

"Can't she drive here?! I'd be just for the night!"

"She can't drive, even if it's only a few hours away. It's dad who does. It's always dad..." she trails off, drowned in thought.

Chloe wants to say something. As much as she understands parental neglect to a certain point, her own parents having chosen a silly trip over their daughter's graduation, nothing really compares to Aubrey's dad. She's only heard bits and pieces and she can tell he's kind of a jerk. She knows how he was pushing her to succeed at everything and had a very low tolerance level for failure. How he'd cut off communication altogether when she had started college. He was aiming at the great American names like Stanford, Columbia, Princeton... Not something as average and low-class as Barden. But she hadn't been accepted to any of the prestigious institutions. And sure enough, poof, daddy was gone.

If at first you don't succeed, pack your bags.

"I wonder what he'd say. If he saw me on that stage, talking on behalf of all the seniors. I wonder if he'd take me in his arms and just—"

Chloe wraps her arms around the blonde's neck, pulling her close and kissing the top of her head. "I've seen you change since Freshman year, Brey. A lot. And I was always so impressed by you, intimidated sometimes. But I admired your courage, your drive. Just know that I am so proud of you, Aubrey Posen."

Aubrey flashes a sad smile at her. "You were always my best and only friend, Chlo. That means the world to me..."

Times goes by and it's nearly 6:30. They're putting on their black graduation gowns. Ghastly fashion faux-pas, one would say. But heck, it's tradition and who can criticize such an iconic outfit. These silly one-sized cloths hanging at the wrists, dangling only a few millimeters from the floor.

Chloe is zipping the back of Aubrey's toga, wondering who's the idiot who thought of this in the first place, when her friend breaks the silence.

"I finally did it, you know! I watched all of Jesse's movies! I sacrificed a few hours of sleep too but it was worth it."

She never talks about Jesse so openly, which takes Chloe by surprise. "So... Uh, what's going on exactly between you two?"

"I don't know. At that point, if he doesn't think me a heartless bitch, I'll consider it an accomplishment in itself."

She sighs, "Don't say that."

"What's that music?" Aubrey suddenly changes the subject, noticing the background melody playing on Chloe's laptop.

She blushes. "David Guetta. Beca mixed me a CD."

"Oh." Aubrey smiles as realization dawns on her; she knows exactly what this music means to Chloe, just like what The Breakfast Club means to her. She turns around to look at her friend. "Did she... say anything to you?"

"No," Chloe admits surprisingly flatly. "I think she preferred to let the lyrics speak for her."

Chloe is sitting in a few rows from the stage, proudly beaming at her best friend. Aubrey is under the limelight, looking a little green and using the podium to stabilize herself. Tapping the microphone to make sure it works, she clears her throat and takes the leap.

"I was asked a couple of weeks ago to write a speech for you today. They didn't tell me exactly what it should be about other than it being "inspirational". Well, the first thing that comes to mind is the future. Your future."

She marks a pause. Quickly surveying the audience, she notices how half of them are struggling against heavy eyelids. She smiles.

"But let's be honest, what is it worth? As we speak, most of you have chosen a path, whether it is science, literature, arts, sports... Some of you chose by passion; others by obligation. Some even don't know yet. And it's okay! You have been taught from kindergarten to college that there is one path that will lead you to success; one way for you to achieve greatness when in fact, there are as many as there are individuals in this room! Everybody has a talent. Gambling, air guitar, remixing music, cuticle care, even mermaid dancing to name a few! Those are things that are a part of you. Don't forget them."

Aubrey's eyes find her best friend, giving her two thumbs up. She continues with confidence. "Yes, the road to get here was hard. Maybe you failed a class, or you lost a relative. You were humiliated, or your friends turned their backs on you. Maybe you fell in love, and you got heartbroken."

She takes a breath, putting her memory card down on the podium and looking the crowd dead in the eye. "But today, as you sit here in this auditorium and you rise to claim your diploma, you prove to the entire world, and to yourself, that you got over it! You pushed through and here you are. Sure, life might have kicked your ass. Got a bruise or two to prove it! But one thing's sure, you can proudly say, "You should see the other guy!""

To this, people in the audience cheer. Aubrey has got the crowd exactly where she wanted; she waits a few seconds before delivering her finale. "Maybe you're not ready to take a step forward tomorrow, next week or even next month. Maybe you're scared to death, and frankly, we probably all are. But as you stand up straight on this stage, with your parents and friends all gathered here, you show that you're at least ready for the future to come hit you in the face." She holds her breath, "And hell, you will show it who's boss!"

Chloe shoots to her feet, clapping and cheering will all her heart. This speech is nothing short of brilliant. It deserves a standing ovation and it is exactly what it gets. Aubrey has rarely looked this proud, with her toothy smile and gleaming eyes. The only other time would have been when they won the ICCA's. And even then, she didn't look as much at peace with life. It's a stunning sight to take in.

Next thing she knows, the Barden Dean is calling the names of those who completed their college education and who are ready to be released in the big open world.

Chloe Beale.

The name echoes in the microphone. She climbs on-stage, ceremoniously shakes the dean's hand before grabbing her diploma and raising it up in victory under the auditorium's applause. That's when her eye catches Beca, standing back, in the right wing. Maybe it's her imagination playing tricks on her, but it seems like Beca is the one clapping the loudest. With her diploma in hand, Aubrey finds her friend in the group. She's looking in the same direction, perhaps expecting to spot Jesse as well.

The dean's speech is a haze; she's not paying attention. She comes back to her senses just in time as he finally voices, "Congratulations, class of 2012!" and a hundred of graduation caps are thrust in the air in a loud clamour. Against all reason, Chloe jumps off the stage and makes her way to the brunette.

They walk outside the auditorium and into a deserted hall to avoid the commotion. Beca is genuinely beaming at her, her face so close to Chloe's that the petite freshman can probably count the freckles across her nose.

"I believe congratulations are in order, Ms. Beale!"

"Thanks. I—I didn't think you'd come!" Chloe stammers as her cheeks redden.

"I couldn't miss the great Aubrey's speech now could I? But honestly she was amazing..."

The senior nods curtly. "She really was. Beca, I need to know. About the mix..." She doesn't budge or protest so Chloe takes it as an invitation to go on. "Why did you do that?"

The girl frowns. "It's a graduation gift! I wrote it on my note."

She is going to play dead, Chloe realizes. Again.

No! Not this time. She had let so many things slide, but not anymore. Not when time was such a rarity, when the hourglass' sand was trickling from her fingers.

"A Guetta mix, Beca!" she bursts, stomping her feet on the ground as if to prove her point. "A fucking perfect, moving, heart-breaking Guetta mix!"

"I—I thought you'd like it!"

"Don't play games with me! You know how I feel!" Chloe is doing her best to hold her tears, but she' a fissured dam; ready to burst at any moment. "You can't not know..."

The brunette nervously wipes a hand across her face and lets it linger over her mouth. Body language at its purest state. She's at a loss for words.

"You're too scared to admit it or maybe too dense to even realize it but you did this for us!" the older woman croaks, mustering every last nerve in her body to maintain her composure.

"There is no us, Chloe," Beca speaks softly, trying to sound patient and reasonable but ultimately coming across as wistful and... defeated?!

But it's still a slap to the face.

"Right, of course there isn't!" she hisses. She has no strength or will to fight anymore; she's been drained from it all. There remains only the affliction that washes over her face, leaving her features dull and her eyes dim. She finishes in a murmur, "And whose fault is that..."

Chloe turns on her heels, her hand itching to throw her diploma in the garbage bin along with the hopes and dreams that Beca's mix had revived in her. But instead, she holds on to it, clutching the crumpled roll of paper so hard that her knuckles turn white as snow.

She keeps telling herself that maybe it was not the right time. Maybe this could have worked had she used the right words. Had she just seized her face and let her irrepressible feelings speak for her. But wallowing in this self-pity is draining and Chloe is simply exhausted. She's cried all the tears she had to give.

She still hasn't gotten rid of Tom. Not officially anyway. This is why they're sitting on the same sofa in the study hall. His arm is roped around her shoulders and she would give anything for him to disappear. The last few days of school before summer are blending into one another; too much is happening at once and Chloe can't deal with everything at once. In a moment of panic, she wishes she were gone already.

Beca, Jesse and Aubrey are sitting at a table not too far, having a lively conversation with Unicycle, the circus-fanatic Treblemaker who's always riding around on his favourite vehicle. Aubrey looks a little tense but overall happy to hang out with them. Chloe would bet anything that Jesse invited her to tag along. She looks across the room at them in time to see that Beca is pulling down the sleeve of her t-shirt, making her bare shoulder visible. The floral tattoo that stretches down her shoulder blade can be seen in all its glory as it seems to captivate the two boys. The redhead huffs; she's seen it before. That and more...

She can hear them from the couch.

"Nice tattoos, Beca!" Uni nods. "What are you getting next?"

"Oh, well there's nothing in the works."

"A music note would suit you."

"More like an entire vinyl on her back! That would totally rock," Jesse jokes.

"Dream on dude!" she punches him on the arm. "I uh, don't know. A flower maybe? Or uh, something cool like a... a..." Her eyes wander to the red mane a few meters away. "A ladybug or something, I don't know," she finishes swiftly.

Chloe freezes instantly and their eyes lock. Whenever the brunette cracks a smile, she accepts it with a greedy heart. Now is no different.

But here it is, the plain, exposed truth.

Beca cares. So much more than she lets on. And she just pretty much admitted to it out loud. The CD mix was one thing, given as a piece of her soul—perhaps to thank Chloe from yanking her out of her dark lonely world at the beginning of the year. The matching tattoos was something of a different order; it would mark the successful corrosion of Beca's walls through a warm and solid warm friendship. But it would also immortalize the passage, however fleeting, of each other in their respective worlds. Permanence in the flesh.

And that prospect gives Chloe wonderful giddy shivers.

Beca cares, that much is true. Still, the question that remains is, Will that be enough?

Tom laughs next to the redhead senior, having overheard the others' conversation as well. "Maybe I should get one too! You think ladybugs can be manly?"

A little less than half an hour later, she sees out of the corner of her eye Beca and Jesse leave the hall and stand in retreat from the door. They appear to be in the midst of a heated argument. Beca's hands flail around while Jesse's face is hard as stone.

Shortly after, as Beca quickly puts several steps behind her, the redhead spots Aubrey shyly making her way towards Jesse.

She can't help but think, What is even right from wrong at this point?

Chloe is packing her bags early so she won't leave anything valuable behind when she'll be in a hurry tomorrow, her taxi honking across the street. Her suitcase is on her bed, filled at the rims with clothes, beauty products, magazines and music sheet booklets. There's a weird smell of finality in the air; both scary and exciting.

A knock on the door disrupts her thoughts. She recognizes the soft but assertive touch of Beca and when she opens the door, the girl is standing before Chloe, her arms wrapped protectively around her own body. From her smudged mascara, it's a no-brainer to know she has cried. Still, the tears brighten the different steel blues and ashen grays whirling in her irises and Chloe is at a loss for words.

"So I was watching this DVD of Romeo and Juliet with Jesse," she begins in a trembling voice. "You know, that terrible remake with guns and Leonardo Di Caprio. And somehow, I don't know... I just—" She takes a deep breath before going on. "It wasn't supposed to happen like that! Not in the real world anyway!" She lets out a tense laugh, the one that shows discomfort. "You think I didn't notice Aubrey's crush on Jesse?! It was clear as day! And still, I didn't mind! Can you believe that?!"

Chloe remains silent, her mouth slightly open. Every single one of her nerves is so tense that she can feel them ache. And she loves it.

Beca exhales in defeat, burying her head in her neck to unconsciously protect herself . "So I tried to figure out where I'd gone wrong..." her voice trails off.

"I don't get it. You looked so happy with Jesse!"

"Some people are just better at hiding their feelings," she smiles bitterly.

And it was true. Chloe had never been good at that; she was in fact pretty much the worst. Whenever something overwhelmed her, she had the hardest time trying to keep it in check, cage it and exert violence on her own feelings. So when she met Beca, she could not understand how the girl did it. How she could deny herself like that. But then she understood that it was not a question of insensitivity, unawareness or even greediness. No, Beca was one of those people who craved privacy—and so was her prerogative—but it was mostly because of fear. Fear to be discovered, fear to be ridiculed, fear to be pushed away... After all, what better way to make yourself vulnerable than when putting yourself on the line? Chloe had never cared for that before. Until she met the girl with the black earrings.

Beca's feet are shuffling on the spot where she stands; she cannot seem to keep still. "You were right," she says. "I'm a coward. I'm a coward because I finally saw where I'd gone wrong. I saw, and I knew, and I hated myself for it! But I was just too scared to fix my mistakes! It was so much easier to ignore everything, brush it off... Brush you off."

Chloe's eyes start to water, but she blinks forcefully. Now, of all times, is not the time to be weak. She should be brave, just like Beca is by being here and opening herself up to destruction.

Fire away, fire away.

Through her red face and tired eyes, the younger girl asks, "What's that Shakespeare quote saying in a fancy way that good things take time?"

"They stumble that run fast?"

She chuckles, her mouth producing the shadow of a genuine grin. "Yeah. This."

"So you don't care if— I mean... So you care?"

Beca rolls her eyes, but her trademark mischievous smirk twitches on her lips at the same time. "I don't have to answer that," she says as a rhetorical question.

"No," Chloe giggles, biting her lower lip.

"So I was thinking... Chloe Beale, do you want to go for a coffee sometime?"

It is perfect. She is perfect. She wants to ask about what will happen over the summer, how will it even work. She suddenly realizes how lucky she is to be living less than half an hour from Barden while Beca stays in town. But somehow, having the brunette at her doorstep, her heart in hand and hope gracing her face, she decides that technicalities will have to take a rain check.

So without missing a beat, Chloe answers brightly, "That'd be aca-awesome!"

First they giggle at the silliness. Then they laugh. And they hug. Chloe feels the warmth of Beca's stomach pressed to hers and she melts in delight, holding her even closer. When she feels Beca's stiff fingers tugging at her ginger hair with such fervour, she can't help but feel her chest tighten. The girl is scared to death. She can almost hear all the questions reverberating at once in the brunette's head. Did I make the right decision? Is Jesse going to forgive me eventually? Will my heart get torn to shreds?

Chloe presses one single kiss to the girl's temple as a way to say It's okay. Everything is going to be just fine. By the way Beca's muscles relax around Chloe's torso, she knows that she believes this silent promise.

Then, in a typical Beca-fashion—formerly shutting out people who cared about her—the girl awkwardly excuses herself and leaves in a hurry. But the senior cannot seriously hold it against her. She has a blind trust in Beca, in her courage and her ability to overcome her fears. She just took a big step so it's normal that she needs some time to process everything on her own. Chloe's not upset or frustrated by it because for one thing, she's waited this long after all (!), and for another, Beca promised to send her a text by the end of the day to arrange their first "date kind of thing" (that's how she had called it) that night.

Chloe turns to her dorm. Yes, she is leaving all of this behind. And yes, it hurts a little. But suddenly, the future doesn't seem so bleak. This is what Aubrey's speech has been about. You are lying if you say you've never been ruffled by life. But the trick is to stick it out. To hold on until it gets better. And apparently, this is exactly the philosophy Chloe has embraced this year.

She grabs her Romeo and Juliet playbook, smiling as she fondles its cover. This story is such a legend nowadays; it's bizarre for her to imagine that if it holds a special place in her heart, it is specifically because Romeo and Juliet don't end up together. She delicately sets her book in her suitcase, in-between her carefully-folded clothes and her oh-so dear Barden Bellas silky scarf.

Chloe allows herself to get lost the event that just occurred, still rather shaken by it. Funny. There has been no passionate kiss in the rain, no tear-jerking violins nor fireworks blasting in the distance.

No, this was not the infamous Hollywood ending, the absolute catharsis everybody is after.

It was more like a beginning. A simple, naked and ever so glorious beginning.