Chloe was wrong.
(Eight whole minutes and an honest to God open bar wrong!)
The thing is, drunk celebrities? They're only entertaining for like the first two minutes.
One minute in and Beca's already mildly annoyed. Her first conversation—with some English boy band guy who keeps messing up her name and takes little interest in anything she says about her music—results in nothing but Amy ditching her for the prospect of body shots off of what Beca has to admit are pretty killer abs.
Fifteen minutes in and 0 effective socializations down, she's seriously considering ditching this whole thing all together.
Thirty minutes in—still startlingly sober with still approximately 0 effective conversations down—she caves and texts Chloe who, of course, manages to convince her to stay with little more than a smiley face and a "have you met Prince yet? His butt is so tiny that I can hold it with like one hand!" And okay, Beca does actively seek out Prince's backside after that (scarily enough, she's pretty sure it can fit in her hand and she has small hands) but that only takes up maybe a minute and she seriously isn't gonna just waltz up to Prince and strike up conversation or anything.
In fact, there are a lot of people here she isn't willing to just waltz right up to and strike up conversation with, which is why, three hours in (0 effective conversations down), she finds herself outside, on a seriously lavish balcony—just her and her headphones. She knows what Chloe is trying to do with her random text messaged celebrity facts (and seriously, maybe that's Chloe's job with the Bellas—because Beca's seriously curious about what she actually does now and maybe scope out other celebrities is it, because how else would she know random things like Elton John's favorite drink or all of Jon Bon Jovi's kid's names?) but knowing these things really doesn't make Beca feel any less out of sorts here.
She just doesn't belong here. Even with her list of Aubrey appropriate subjects and without her "ear monstrosities" it's so obvious she doesn't fit in with these people.
She's never really cared about her image or the fame or the money; she's never cared about the parties or overindulging in expensive liquor. She's never cared about this. Any of this. This whole thing just isn't her and she honestly can't stand around and pretend that it is.
It's so much easier to settle into the music; to fall against the heavy cement of an intricately designed column and settle into the heavy bass flowing from her headphones.
She gets so lost in the beat—silently stripping apart the arrangement and adding her own melody— that she doesn't even realize that someone has joined her on the balcony until she hears a faint voice cut through her music.
She tugs the ear pads off of her ears, glancing behind her at the source of the interruption.
There's something strangely familiar about the guy standing behind her—something in that bright smile and those baby faced features— but she can't for the life of her figure out where she could have seen him before
"I know you!" The guy repeats himself, grinning in a way that doesn't necessarily put her at ease.
"No you don't!" She replies, instantly dismissive—she's sure if she did actually know him, she'd know where from.
"Yeah, I do." He insists anyway, apparently unperturbed by her dismissal. He sinks down onto the floor next to her, completely ignoring the glare of disapproval she sends his way. "You're the chick from that movie!" He persists and Beca furrows her eyebrows because no, definitely not her, and apparently this is her life now—being a magnet for crazies. "You know which movie!" He presses. "The one where the brooding wallflower meets the charming pop star at a party and then she falls madly in love with him."
She stares at him for a moment, trying to gauge if he's joking or just crazy—for her own sanity, she chooses to take it as a joke.
"That's not a movie," she guesses.
He laughs, easy and cordial; she seriously resists the urge to flinch at the friendly shoulder nudge he sends her way.
"It could be an amazing movie," he quips.
She rolls her eyes but he seems pretty harmless so she doesn't rebuff him completely.
"We clearly don't share the same definition of amazing," she says instead.
He laughs again, extending a hand for her to shake.
"I'm Jesse," he introduces himself.
That's totally enough to jog Beca's memory.
"You're Jesse?" She asks, thoroughly amused, because seriously, this is Jesse? This is the Jesse from all the magazines? The Jesse who girls are apparently besides themselves trying to throw their panties at? This is the Jesse she's supposed to be watching out for? "You're pretty boy, teen heartthrob Jesse?"
He folds his arms but he's apparently not too offended by her assessment because he's still smiling broadly.
"Why is that so funny to you?" He asks.
"I don't know. I just wasn't expecting you to be so…" she trails off, not really knowing how to explain it. It's not like she was expecting anything in particular—she honestly didn't even give it much thought— but at the same time she just doesn't see him as the type of guy that girls would be getting into catfights over; he's just so…
"Cute?" He fills in for her.
"Not the word I was looking for," she laughs.
He chuckles too, leaning back against the column so he's comfortable (clearly, he isn't planning on leaving her alone for now).
"So, what's your deal?" He asks after a moment.
"Yeah. Like I haven't seen you around before and then you just show up all of a sudden all anti-social with your dark and mysterious brooding."
"I'm not brooding!" She defends.
He raises an eyebrow, an obvious dare to be honest.
"This isn't my kinda thing," she admits. "I kinda just want to go home."
"Well, what's stopping you?"
"I just—" she doesn't even know where to begin—not that she really wants to explain it anyway. Instead, she shrugs. "I dunno," she sighs. "Anyway, Amy, my—" Assistant ? Except she and Amy are negotiating a title and that sounds pompous anyway. Also, she's so not calling her her political advisor either because just no and she's totally avoiding anything she has to explain. "My, uhmmm, friend," she settles for. "She's having fun and I'm not gonna spoil someone else's fun because I'm kinda lame."
"You mean the girl you came with?" He asks.
"Blonde?" He asks. She nods again. "Australian?" Another nod. "Very, very drunk?"
"Sounds like her."
"I'm pretty sure she's gone."
"I saw her leave like an hour ago with that WBUJ jerk."
"What?" Beca asks, hopping to her feet to glance through the glass slide-in door. The party is still in full-swing but she seriously doesn't see Amy anywhere. "Are you serious?"
"Yep!" Jesse nods. "Problem?"
"Yeah. She was kinda my ride! Or she was the connection to my ride at least," she confesses.
"Oh wow." Jesse says, moving behind her. "Well, I was pretty much planning on calling it a night anyway," he admits. "You can catch a ride with me, if you want?"
He's smiling, genuinely helpful, but she knows she really shouldn't.
"No, it's alright," she refuses. She can just imagine Aubrey and that shrill annoyed tone she'll receive if the blonde ever knew she was even thinking about catching a ride with a "Treble." (She's really trying not to incur anymore of Aubrey's ire— not after that shopping trip.) "I'll just get a taxi or something. No big deal."
"Come on," He grins, excited and open (God, he's kinda like a giant puppy). "It's just a ride! I insist!"
Well, she kinda really does just wanna go home and it is just a ride.
And okay, so maybe it's a ride in a limo the size of a bus with a pretty boy, teen heartthrob who her publicist says to stay away from at all costs but whatever; she's had a seriously long day and she's kinda ready to curl up in a ball and get some much needed sleep.
So, she has this strange feeling that someone's watching her throughout the whole ride; whatever, she figures it's just Aubrey invading her subconscious with her crazy.
The annoying chime of her cell phone jolts her out of her sleep.
She wants to just roll back over and snuggle her way back into dreamland but the goddamn thing won't stop ringing.
She blinding reaches to answer it and she regrets that decision almost instantly.
She barely gets out a sleepily muttered, "hello," before she gets a shrill and highly annoyed, "office, A.S.A.P," followed swiftly by the dial tone.
Her first glimpse of the day is the bright glaring glint of her alarm clock.
7:14. She groans.
This is clearly about to be the shittiest day ever.
She makes it to the office in what has to be record time considering that all she did was brush her teeth and haul on whatever clothes were nearest to her hands before heading out.
She drives into the parking garage, pulling in between a wall and this obnoxiously expensive sports car that she's pretty sure belongs to one of the balding guys in the law office next to the Bellas. (He's gotta be going through a midlife crisis or something.)
Nothing at all seems terribly amiss about today. She's pretty sure Aubrey's just gonna berate her for being a total social dimwit and only introducing herself to maybe one person last night and then they're gonna work out a way to get around her social awkwardness and hopefully it won't turn out to be another all day thing.
Except, something is off.
She realizes it instantly because the moment she steps out of the garage, she's flanked by Lily and Cynthia Rose which is weird; very weird.
"What's going on, guys?" she asks, mostly addressing Cynthia Rose because even if Lily did answer, she's sure she won't be able to hear it.
Cynthia Rose shrugs but it's clear it's not because she doesn't know but because she doesn't want to tell and either way, it's obvious that something is going on because Cynthia Rose is sticking close, leading while Lily guards her back.
They're actually acting like bodyguards, which once again is weird; very weird.
"Ok, seriously, what's up?" she asks, confused.
"Aubrey just wants us to make sure nobody followed you to the office," Cynthia Rose fills her in, opening the door to the office building and ushering her in.
"What do you mean followed me to the office? Why would someone follow me to the office?"
She doesn't get an answer but the moment she steps into the office she knows it's clearly because something's wrong (if the way Aubrey looks seriously close to puking is any indication, then something is seriously wrong).
"Ok, what the hell is going on?"
"This is a PR-tastrophe!" Aubrey answers, shrill and irritated and panicked (and God, Beca can practically hear the bile rising).
"A what?" she asks, glancing around the room for a translation. Chloe's got her eyes buried in a magazine, not even making eye contact, Amy looks mildly nervous and Stacie looks oddly impressed. No one answers her. "Ok, seriously, someone is going to have to fill me in."
Aubrey slams a stack of magazines onto her desk and Beca moves to glance at them, gasping when she realizes just what she's looking at.
Her face. Everywhere. With bolded titles like, "Jesse's Girl" and "Jesse leaves party with mystery girl."
"If you think this is bad, you should see what's on the internet," Aubrey mutters. "Honestly, all you had to do was talk to a few people and get your name out there; instead, you leave the party as a Treble's plaything! Jesus, of course you'd make a mess even Chloe can't clean up!"
"Aubrey," It's Chloe who speaks up, her tone soft and apologetic even though she's still avoiding Beca's eyes, which sucks even more than all of Aubrey's yelling. "Look, it's not that bad."
"It is that bad!" Aubrey shrieks. "You know how the Trebles are; they're clearly out to embarrass us! They're—"
"That's not what this was." Beca interrupts, instantly defensive because seriously, she's done nothing wrong and even if she did, Aubrey doesn't need to be taking that tone with Chloe when it's clearly her she's pissed at. "I was just—I just needed a ride and Jesse—he was just being nice. It's nothing more than that!"
"Yes, and I'm sure Uni was perfectly nice as he was getting America's Sweetheart completely wasted before the Grammys!"
"Well, I'm not America's sweetheart," Beca points out.
"Well, right now you're nothing more than Jesse's sweetheart!" Aubrey yells, sharp and harsh, enough to shock even Stacie, who gasps a little. She seems to realize how out of line that was because she takes a deep breath and when she speaks again, it's still manic but less on the verge of puking her guts out. "I've done some snooping," she admits, pulling a stack of papers from the drawer of her desk. "And with Bumper on tour making sure John Mayer keeps his foot permanently out of his mouth, the Trebles have gotten a new publicist. I couldn't really find out about him but apparently he's all smoke and mirrors; he can make a story disappear like a magician. With Jesse's squeaky clean bachelor image, you'd think they'd be desperate to get rid of this but they're not. They're just letting it run like it's nothing. This is a Treble-crossing if I've ever seen one."
"I just—I don't see the big deal," Beca admits. Like, sure, it's about a million levels of unpleasant seeing her face plastered all over gossip magazines especially insinuating things that just aren't true but she didn't even tell Jesse who she is and even if she did, of all the things she could say about him after their meeting last night, cunning isn't even one that comes to mind, so this just doesn't make any sense to her. "I mean, they don't even know who I am," she points out. "Right now I'm just mystery girl."
"Exactly, today you're mystery girl! Tomorrow the media gets a hold of your name; the next day it's your address, then where you went to school, then embarrassing Facebook photos, etc, etc. In a week, they know exactly who you are and they've dictated your public image before you've even had a chance to!"
She has a point; Beca didn't think of it like that, but Aubrey definitely has a point.
"Not exactly," Stacie declares, drawing the eyes of everyone in the room. "Okay, so one time in high school," she begins to explain. "There was this girl who thought I slept with her boyfriend, Robbie; so she corners me in a hallway one day—which, you know, buy me a drink first or something—and she starts saying how she's gonna tell the whole school how I slept with Robbie and James and Edgar and Phil. So clearly, none of that's true because I only slept with Robbie and James' brother, Johnny, and Edgar and Aaron and Nathan but I figured that if she said it first, of course everyone would believe her. So during lunch, I hop onto a table and I'm just like, "excuse me guys. I'm gonna confess something that none of you know about me; I have a lot of sex. I can't help it; he's a hunter, you know?" and everybody just kept eating lunch like nothing happened. So, moral of the story: nobody cared because I admitted it first."
"I—" Beca weighs Stacie's words carefully, subtracting the sexual nature of it all (and ignoring how smug Stacie is about the sexual nature of it) and relating it to her situation. "She's right," she decides even though she can't believe she's even saying it, especially when everyone else appears so speechless. "I mean, bad example but she's right! What if we beat the media to it?"
Aubrey is oddly quiet but just as oddly contemplative.
"We'd have to work fast—by the end of the week at least," she says finally. "And we'd have to do something big—something that will get lots of media coverage. And even then, we'd still have to deal with this Treble situation."
"But it could work?" Beca asks, not even sure why she's so hopeful, not right now, not when the delusion of choice about this whole things has finally been stripped from her.
"It could," Aubrey admits. "I can start making phone calls and see what I can come up with and then we can all meet back here tomorrow, 8 AM, sharp!" She declares, back to her usual resolute crazy. "Chloe, can you keep track of this from home?" she asks, gesturing to the magazines. Chloe nods, smiling softly (she's still yet to meet Beca's gaze). "And can you lay low until tomorrow?" Aubrey addresses her and Beca nods too, mostly just to get this over with so she can finally get Chloe to address her.
Aubrey is apparently convinced that this can actually work without dragging the Bellas' name further into the dirt because she finally lets them go.
Beca catches Chloe right before she's out the door.
"Hey Chloe, can I talk to you for a second?" she asks, which is stupid because she's not even sure what she has to say but whatever, it works because Chloe at least acknowledges her.
"You can walk me to my car, if you want?" she says, shrugging. "I can show you the back way to the parking lot. You might need to escape the paps soon," she jokes, smiling, even though it's hardly as easy as her usual smile.
Beca nods, but she doesn't say anything, at least not until they're like halfway to the parking lot (Chloe's taking her the same long, roundabout way she took her when she walked her to her car that first day) and she's pretty sure if she doesn't say anything soon, then she's just not gonna say anything at all.
"Look, are you mad at me too?" She starts, quick to cover up the actual worry that worms its way into her voice. "'Cause I swear I wasn't trying to create some "PR-tastrophe" or whatever," Especially if she knew that it would be Chloe's mess to clean up (if she actually knew that was what Chloe does, she'd probably have been more mindful not to fuck up). "I was just tired," she explains "and I couldn't find Amy and I needed a ride and I honestly just wanted to go home," she's rambling, but Chloe's not saying anything and she's not sure she can deal with silence right now. "Jesse offered and that was it! He's nice and whatever but all the extra press or that comes with him, I don't want that. I don't—"
"I'm not mad at you," Chloe interjects.
Beca purses her lips because yeah, Chloe has a seriously funny way of showing just how happy she is with her right now.
"Well, you barely looked at me back there," she points out.
Chloe stops at Beca's car—which is weird because Beca thought she was walking Chloe to hers but whatever, she's less preoccupied on where they are and far more preoccupied with the way Chloe's frowning. It kind of reminds her of the first day when Chloe walked her to her car, when Chloe told her she didn't sing anymore and Beca could swear she could even see the bright blue of her eyes dull at the admission.
This might actually be worse. At least then there was that confession. (Beca still doesn't get it completely—she's still not sure she can even ask—but she knows that whatever it is that makes Chloe feel like she can't sing anymore is something that makes her sad; she knows it's a subject to tread lightly over.)
This is something different entirely. She's not sure where this sadness is stemming from, only that it's right in front of her and she has no idea what it's about or how she can stop it. She wants nothing more to stop it.
"Just," Chloe sighs, like she's not quite sure where to begin herself. "Just be careful, ok?" she warns, her tone thick and fluid—it's like the sudden sadness has even invaded her vocal cords. "This business is—" she shakes her head, pursing her lips like she's saying all the wrong things. "Some people just aren't who you think they are, alright?"
Beca has this weird feeling that Chloe's not limiting her statement to this whole Jesse situation because there's that frown and her eyes are the most turbulent shade of blue Beca's ever seen but Beca doesn't know what to ask, or if she can ask—not with the way Chloe's frowning; not with the way she seems to be retreating into her own mind (Beca's sure that's a place she can't be welcome)— so she just fakes a smile instead.
"Yeah, totally," she agrees. "I get that," she says—and she does get it (she knows Los Angeles is full of people faking it to make it) but at the same time she's not sure she gets it in the way Chloe does; she's not sure she'll ever understand it the way Chloe apparently does.
"Good," Chloe hugs her, flinging her arms around her neck and pulling her close. The way she sighs into the side of Beca's neck is anything but happy but when she pulls back, she smiling, soft and patient (like she waiting for something; Beca still for the life of her can't figure out what she could be waiting for). "Also, next time you need a ride, doesn't even matter where, just text me, ok?" she says, giving Beca a friendly nudge with her elbow. "That's what friends are for, right?"
Friends—there's the name for the weird feeling of dissemblance she got when she was positive that Chloe was mad at her and that's probably the reason behind that weird sinking feeling in her chest at Chloe's frown too.
She's not even sure when it happened or how it happened so quickly but she finds herself not at all minding the label Chloe's slapped on this thing between them.
That doesn't make her lame or anything.
"Yeah," She matches Chloe's smile with a genuine one of her own.
It would probably be like a moment or whatever but the obnoxiously expensive sport cars next to hers unlocks and she glances behind her, expecting to see the uptight, aging, balding lawyer from next door.
He doesn't come.
In fact, there's no one else around.
"Dude!" Her eyes are probably comically wide or something but seriously, she's shocked. "This is your car?" She asks, eyeing the vehicle carefully—it's sleek and black, all sharp metallic angles like it might just be from some racetrack of the future (psychic, time traveling, hypnotic, creativity sucking vampire?)
"Yeah," Chloe answers, shrugging like it's no big deal.
It's kind of a big deal.
"I hate to tell you this, but I think you're going through an early midlife crisis," Beca jokes—or half-jokes, because well, yeah! "Or you're Batman!" she jumps to the next logical conclusion. "Jesus!" she shakes her head, still surveying the deathtrap. "Is this one of those cars that are like obnoxiously loud?" she asks, genuinely curious. Chloe laughs, opening the front door—it seriously opens up and out—and sticking the key in the engine. The resulting sound is enough to reverberate through the parking garage. "You totally have to give me a ride home one day just to rev the engine to annoy my roommate!" She declares. (Just imagining Kimmy Jin's face is totally priceless.)
Chloe chuckles, her cheeks tinted red with her amused.
"It's a plan," she promises, laughing vibrant and easy—the sound wraps around Beca, makes her feel warm and lightheaded.
That's a friends thing, right?
And the fact that all it takes is Chloe laughing to brighten what had the potential to be the shittiest day in the history of her life, well, she guesses that's kind of what friends are for too, right?