Chapter 23.

Beca jumped when she voices on the background. Then a familiar voice called into the phone.

"Hello?"

Beca dropped down on her knees and breathed into the phone.

"It's me."

Chloe sounded breathless.

"Hi...Beca."

Beca realized how much she had missed hearing Chloe's voice.

"It's great to hear your voice. It's been too long."

Chloe chuckled awkwardly.

"Yeah. It's been a while Beca."

Beca closed her eyes to collect her thoughts.

"I just wanted to congratulate you on your big night tonight. It was the first time ever that I have cried over a figure skating performance. So... well done."

The redhead seemed surprised.

"My skating made Beca Mitchell cry? That was unexpected. It was hard for me not get too emotional myself but I managed to pull through."

Beca shook her head.

"More than that. You killed it. You killed me."

They shared a tense laugh. The line went silent for a while until Beca continued.

"And now you're celebrating your success? Partying hard?"

Chloe chuckled.

"A bit too hard considering I lost my phone. Should probably thank Ke$ha later..."

Beca grinned. Chloe sounded like she was having a tipsy time. Beca was about to say something but then she heard another voice on the background. Chloe replied something and returned to the call.

"Sorry Beca. Turns out I'm not the only one who's being a little careless tonight. Some woman just walked in looking for her engagement ring. I told her I know nothing of such things but maybe she should check from the bar."

Beca wasn't sure if Chloe was on the verge of being adorably tipsy or becoming annoyingly drunk. She decided on adorably tipsy.

Beca laughed out loud.

"They were probably just looking for you. You're the star there!"

Chloe giggled happily.

"I'm only the star here because the great Beca Mitchell isn't here. I might be famous for a figure skater but that's pretty much it. You're the international sensation."

Beca smirked.

"I believe that's Pitbull you're talking about. It's you who we should be talking about. You were seriously good tonight. You blew my mind. Like I said earlier congrats on your success."

Chloe was all smiles as she suppressed a yawn. Talking to Beca made her feel warm and fuzzy. She wished she could curl up to a ball and sleep. And dream of Beca.

"I'm glad you called. It's always nice to chat with old friends."

Beca quickly brushed off Chloe's definition of their relationship status although it stung. Beca cleared her throat. She heard Chloe was getting tired so she went on with her plan.

"I know things didn't end well between us but I was hoping we could talk."

Chloe giggled.

"We're talking right now."

Beca sighed.

"Now might not be the best time..."

Chloe was quiet for a while, thinking what Beca had said.

"You might be right. Even I'm not too drunk to realize that."

Beca smiled.

"That's great Chloe. Listen. Don't fall asleep for me, okay? There must be tons of people lining up for you. I'm sure you're the most sought-after person there tonight. So what do you say?"

Beca waited breathlessly as the line went silent. Then Chloe came back with a proverb.

"A lot of water has flowed under the bridge since I last you. We should catch up."

Beca felt relieved as her insides did a tiny somersault. Small steps...

"Okay. You go back to the party and we'll talk later. Make good choices. Say hi to Ke$ha for me."

"Will do Beccah."

The brunette was about to end the call but then Chloe's soft voice returned one final time.

"It was really great to hear your voice Beccah. Can't wait to talk to you when I'm sober..."

The call disconnected. Beca she rolled on her side and pressed against the soft material of her living room carpet. She blew air out of her lungs.

xxx

As soon as Chloe ended the call Ke$ha stepped into the room. The singer seemed ecstatic.

"Well? What did she say?"

Chloe furrowed her brow at the blonde.

"Were you listening the whole time?"

Ke$ha shook her head and for once seemed sincere.

"I just got back from stage. What did she say?"

Chloe thought of the first thing that came into her mind.

"That she cried watching me skate."

Ke$ha twitched her face.

"Did she think it was that bad?"

Chloe threw her purse at the laughing singer who thanked the redhead for the generous gift.

"Ha ha! Beca loved it. Told me I was the highlight of the night."

Chloe stood up, reaching for her purse. Ke$ha however kept the purse out of Chloe's reach.

"You were the highlight of the night. So, when are you meeting her next?"

Chloe couldn't help smiling as she made another futile attempt at reaching for her purse.

"Like I'm telling you. You might just 'accidentally' appear at the same place. Give me my purse."

Ke$ha grinner mischeviously.

"By telling me you will make sure I know to avoid that place. Imagine if I just happen to run into you. Awkward..."

There was fire in Chloe's eyes as she made her final plea.

"Give me my purse or I'll tell Brittany that you slept with Beca!"

Ke$ha looked shell-shocked at Chloe's words.

"You wouldn't! Besides that happened ages ago! Old news!"

Chloe pulled her phone out, pretending to type.

"Hey Brittany! Guess what? Your lover Ke$ha..."

Ke$ha made a face as she handed Chloe back her purse.

"Whatever. She's not my lover though."

Chloe raised an eyebrow.

"Then you don't mind me sending her the message?"

Ke$ha grabbed the phone out of Chloe's hands and put it in her bra. Chloe shook her head defeated. She wasn't going to finger-bang Ke$ha's cleavage to get her phone back. Ke$ha held out a finger for her.

"You will get this back at the end of the night. Now we have more important things to do. C'moon ginger, let's get drunk!"

Chloe giggled and followed Ke$ha back to the party.

xxx

Chloe checked her watch as she watched the waves at Venice Beach. Chloe glanced at her phone carefully to check her appearance. It had been two days since her comeback night but she hadn't gotten much sleep the night before. She hoped she didn't look too tired. She had practically slept through the day following the event and after party. She had learnt from Beca a year ago that one shouldn't schedule anything important on the day after party and had wisely asked to meet with the brunette the next day. They were meeting today to get some ice cream. Chloe clenched her purse a little too hard when she looked left and right in case she had missed the tiny brunette on the boardwalk. None of the people on the boardwalk matched the description though. Chloe turned her attention back to the ice cream parlour and stared at her reflection. To say that she was nervous would have been an understatement. She had thought of what could happen but eventually she let it rest. There was no way of knowing really. At least Beca had taken the initiative to meet so there was a chance they might figure things out after all. Chloe drew breath. She was getting emotional just thinking about seeing Beca but what about talking to her of what happened between them?

Beca blew air out of her lungs as she walked down the boardwalk. She had a lot on her mind. She was seeing Chloe for the first time in who knows how long. Would it be awkward? Would it be different? She would find out any minute now. Then she saw Chloe. Oh girl. Chloe was wearing a knee-length flowery summer dress topped off with a leather jacket and cute low flat boots. Her braid updo completed the look. Chloe was standing next to an ice cream parlour, fidgeting with the hem of her dress.

Beca stopped just behind Chloe's shoulder. She mustered her courage.

"I hear this place has the best ice cream in town."

Chloe lifted her aviators into her hair and smiled shyly as she turned to the voice. Another brief smile appeared on her face as she recognized Beca. Chloe took in Beca's all-black ensemble of jeans, boots, top jacket and sunglasses. Beca wore her hair down in light waves. She had gone light on the make up, remembering how fresh Chloe usually looked. Judging by Chloe's eyes traveling up and down her body she had made good choices.

Chloe motioned her head towards the parlour.

"Then we ought to try it out."

Beca nodded and hurried to open the door for the redhead.

Chloe thanked her but kept a straight face. Beca furrowed her brow as she followed the redhead inside. She wasn't used to seeing Chloe so tense. They observed the menu in silence. They turned to face each other at the same exact moment.

"Wow. Hi."

It was all Beca managed to say when their eyes locked. A few strands of hair had escaped Chloe's do but they just eccentuated her angel-like features.

"You look beautiful."

Beca's comment brought out a pink glow on Chloe's cheeks. The redhead glanced at Beca quickly but talked to her shoes.

"Hi. You don't look bad yourself."

It was Beca's turn to blush. She felt shy all of a sudden. It was a new feeling. Beca rubbed her hands together to shake off her nerves and took the lead.

"You should try the hot chocolate ice cream float. You get the best of both worlds, hot chocolate to warm you up and all the goodness of softee ice cream."

Chloe nodded thoughtfully.

"Sounds like a good choice. What are you getting? Let me guess..."

Chloe glanced at the flavor selection and then at Beca.

"Brandy chocolate?"

Was the redhead a mind reader? Beca couldn't help grinning from ear to ear.

"How did you know?"

Chloe shrugged and flashed a toothy smile.

"I dunno. Fits your character. A lot of kick with just a hint of sweetness."

Beca shook her head laughing. Chloe's comment broke the ice between them.

"You're good. Let me take these."

Beca put her hand on Chloe's arm as the redhead was searching for her wallet. Chloe looked dubious.

"You shouldn't."

Beca's insides twitched painfully. In addition to being called an 'old friend' she wasn't allowed to buy Chloe ice cream anymore? She squeezed Chloe's arm as she locked eyes with the redhead again.

"I insist."

Chloe stopped looking for her wallet and nodded. Beca paid for both of them. They walked back to the boardwalk and savored the taste of ice cream. Beca took a break from her ice cream. The taste was heavenly. Beca turned to Chloe as they kept walking.

"So have you recovered from your workout the other night? That being the after party?"

Beca got the reaction she was hoping for as Chloe laughed.

"The morning after I felt like I had been run over by a bulldozer and my muscles ached but what can you expect...I haven't had time for practicing my drinking lately."

"I can tell from experience that it takes practice." Beca replied light-heartedly.

Chloe's lips twitched up.

"You would know..."

Beca replied with a wink. There was no need to put in words. They both went back memory lane for a while.

Chloe turned to Beca.

"How about you? How's the new record coming along?"

Beca swallowed.

"I hit a wall a while back. Couldn't get over it. Took a break, went on a holiday. It's looking better now."

Chloe's tone remained neutral.

"Did Luke give you a hard time?"

Beca glanced at Chloe carefully. Her expression remained unreadable.

"He tried but I told him he's not the boss of me."

Chloe nodded thoughtfully.

"You held your own. I wish I could say the same..."

Beca touched Chloe's hand.

"He told me that he ran into you at that party. I'm sorry he took his anger out on you. It was a dick move."

Chloe shrugged.

"I was the cause for his anger so I see why he did it. It's just funny how things like that happen just when you think you're finally starting to piece your life together again. Then someone conveniently finds a way to and put you in your rightful place..."

Having finished their ice creams by now they stopped to take a seat on a bench overlooking the seafront. Chloe leaned her hands on the edge of the bench. Beca could only make out the side of Chloe's eye because the redhead still had her sunglasses on. Chloe shook her head. Her voice was heavy.

"I'm not going to lie to you. These past couple of months have been exhausting both physically and emotionally. I didn't need Luke to tell me that."

Beca was afraid to ask but she did anyway.

"How are you holding up?"

Chloe kept facing forward but her head dipped. She replied with a waivering voice.

"Not exactly peachy. I've had a really rough time since we stopped talking."

Beca's reply was meek as she removed her sunglasses with shaking hands.

"Me too. How did we end up not talking..."

It was more of a rhetorical question but Chloe addressed it anyway after a long pause.

"The situation became unbearable long before that last fiasco. I would have had to withdraw from our contract anyway. I crossed a line long before that last session. I overstepped my boundaries. We became so close I stopped acting like a professional should. I started to care for you as something more than a client."

Beca shook her head. Her voice was layered with apology.

"I didn't exactly oppose. First it was like a game to me. I wanted you to fall for me. What I didn't expect was that I fell even harder. You found a way to get under my skin and that scared the shit out of me."

Chloe finally turned her full attention to Beca who had stuffed her hands deep in her pockets. Chloe lifted her sunglasses to her hair and met Beca's eyes.

"It sure doesn't feel like a game anymore, does it?"

At the sight of Chloe's eyes Beca felt a pang in her chest and she shook her head furiously.

Chloe half-whispered half-cried her next words.

"I never meant to make you feel I didn't care about you. I care about you a lot Beca."

Beca's flinch turned into a guilty expression.

"I know that."

Chloe's next words came with difficulty but she needed to say them.

"Do you? I blamed myself for everything for a long time when you ignored my contact attempts. I can't continue to take the blame anymore. I was hurt by the way you treated me Beca. I felt hopeless. I couldn't forgive myself because I thought that it was all my fault. But you - you walked out on me. I can't be sorry for the rest of my life. That burden is just too damn heavy to carry."

Chloe bit her lip hard as she held back tears. Beca blew air out of her lungs as she prepared to come clean.

"Well as it turns out I was the one who needed time to figure things out. The way I acted was rash and immature. I never gave you the chance to explain yourself properly or even try to talk things through. I got cornered and did the only thing I seem to be capable of in those situations – make a run for it."

Beca wiped the corner of her eye before continuing. Chloe didn't interrupt. Beca's voice cracked.

"The reason being I'm scared that people will leave me. So I have to be the one to leave first or tell them to get out before I risk of getting hurt. I'm so sorry I hurt you Chloe."

Chloe blinked rapidly. A lone tear made its way down her cheek.

Beca forced herself to look up from her feet and face the pair of baby blue eyes that reflected the hurt in her own eyes. Beca motioned a shaking hand to her cheek. Tears were streaming down freely now.

Chloe gave in to her tears. They looked at each other. Chloe scooted closer and wrapped her arms around the brunette. Beca leaned into Chloe's embrace. They both sobbed into each other's shoulder. They had caused each other go though pain but the familiarity of the other's arms closing around made everything a little bit better. They stayed like that until their breathing evened out.

"I'm so messed up." Beca finally mumbled against Chloe's shoulder.

"We're both messed up in our own special ways." The redhead replied with a whisper.

Beca made a sound that probably meant she agreed. Chloe rubbed the brunette's back with her fingers. It felt like they sat like that forever. Slowly Beca moved out of the embrace and sniffed hopelessly. She moved her hand up and down Chloe's arm and looked deep into the redhead's eyes.

"I miss you so much Chloe. Do you think you can ever forgive me?"

Chloe sighed as she caressed Beca's cheek with her hand. I already did. She bit her lip as she sensed Beca wasn't done yet.

Beca continued sobbing.

"I know we can't change what happened or take back the time but I can't even begin to tell you how much it would mean to have you back in my life."

There were the words Chloe had been dying to hear. The redhead drew a shuddering breath.

"My heart took a pretty serious beating the last time around and I've grown very protective of it ever since. I've just managed to put the pieces back together again."

Beca's eyes were red from crying. Chloe let her out of her misery.

"However I don't have much of a choice here. I never had a choice. The heart wants what the heart wants."

Beca clutched her heart and her breathing was shallow. Chloe squeezed the brunette's hand reassuringly.

"Firstly if we are going to make this work we need to start communicating how we feel. If you feel scared or insecure about something you need to tell me. And I need to stop being sorry for everything."

Beca nodded.

"I agree."

They looked at each other for a long time.

Beca started instinctively to lean towards Chloe but was stopped by Chloe's voice.

"Secondly we shouldn't rush this. Rushing never led us to a good place."

There was hesitation in Chloe's voice but the redhead had made her decision. The hurt was still raw of the emotions they had experienced. She worried they were going too fast.

Beca nodded. Chloe was probably right. They shouldn't jump head-on into something they were both still trying to comprehend.

"We're not in a rush. This is not a contest."

Beca put her hand forward. She nodded at Chloe.

"We'll start over. See where it takes us. Friends?"

Chloe looked at Beca's extended hand and then Beca's eyes. They seemed to say 'trust me Chloe'. She did.

"Friends."

Chloe squeezed Beca's hand. They held each other's eyes for a long time. Without noticing Chloe started to lean forward instinctively. Then a huge yawn escaped her mouth. Chloe covered her mouth but Beca just chuckled and stood up.

"Don't let the devil take your soul."

She extended her hands to Chloe to pull the redhead to a standing position. They linked arms. Beca tilted her head to the side as she turned to Chloe.

"I think we've had enough talk for one day. What do you say I drive you home?"

Chloe nodded wearily. The talking and weeping had taken it's toll on her.

"That would be great."

They walked back to the car in comfortable silence. Beca hurried to open the door for the redhead. She could see that Chloe appreciated the gesture.

Chloe gave Beca directions where to go. Beca turned on the radio and started humming to whatever was on. The songs that followed were in the same peaceful rhythm and she got lost in the music.

Let the bough break, let it come down crashing
Let the sun fade out to a dark sky
I can't say I'd even notice it was absent
Cause I could live by the light in your eyes

Chloe didn't say anything but Beca noticed that the redhead glanced at her direction every once in a while.

After some time Chloe told Beca to pull over in front of a grand white apartment building. Beca got out of the car again to open the door for Chloe. The redhead thanked and turned to Beca but could not suppress another yawn. Chloe offered Beca a tired grin.

"I'm exhausted."

Beca chuckled and shook her head with a grin.

"Talking is exhausting. Not even mentioning talking and crying."

Chloe agreed with a smile.

"I'm glad we did though."

Beca agreed whole-heartedly. She felt a lot better already. She had Chloe in her life again.

"Me too. So..."

Chloe raised one eyebrow.

"So..."

Beca fiddled with her fingers as she tried to get over her nerves.

"Are you free on Friday by any chance?"

Chloe racked her brain until she remembered.

"That's your birthday isn't it?"

Beca couldn't hide her surprise.

"You remembered."

Chloe was so beautiful when she smiled from ear to ear, Beca thought.

"Of course I remembered."

There was no question in Chloe's voice.

Beca shrugged.

"Right. Like I remember vividly that your birthday is..."

Chloe looked expectantly at Beca. Beca put on her most charming smile as she was trying to find any clues in Chloe's eyes. The redhead kept her cool. Beca racked her brain to find a moment in time when she would have heard Chloe mention her date of birth.

"It's clearly the 25th of Jun-"

Chloe finally offered help.

"July."

Beca laughed awkwardly.

"Jun-ly. That's what I said."

Chloe only rolled her eyes.

"We have to work on that."

They smiled in silence for a moment until Beca stuffed her hands in her pockets.

"I guess this is goodbye then."

Chloe tilted her head to the side. Her expression was quizzical.

"For now."

Beca shivered. She wasn't sure if it was because of the air or because of the way looked at her. Maybe it was both. Chloe stepped closer to zip up Beca's jacket. She took her time with the garment. It felt good to touch Beca again even though it was only helping with her jacket. Chloe's voice was silky.

"There. I don't want you to get cold."

Beca smiled sheepishly. She felt like she had the posture of a marshmellow. I'm never cold when I'm with you, she thought. Despite of the obvious moment they had just shared she somehow managed to find her voice again.

"See you on Friday? I'll send you the details."

Beca didn't really have to go but the conversation kind of mandated it at this point. Everything was going so well Beca was determined not to blow it now.

Chloe's smile was warm as she replied.

"You bet."

Beca lightly touched Chloe's arm as she leaned to brush cheeks with Chloe. The redhead still wore the same perfume, Beca noted.

Chloe seemed reluctant to walk across the street to her apartment. She glanced at Beca one last time before turning to cross the street. Beca sighed and got into her car to drive home. Her small smile turned into a big grin. Had it been awkward? Yes. Had it been different? Yes. Some things didn't change though. Like the obvious sexual tension between them.