- Part 1 -


Arrhythmia


Nobody said it was easy;
It's such a shame for us to part.
Nobody said it was easy;
No one ever said it would be this hard.
Oh, take me back to the start.
- Coldplay


"I just don't understand why you think being five minutes early to something is considered being late."

"Because you're supposed to be fifteen minutes early, Chloe." Aubrey yanks her oversized black suitcase out of the trunk of their rental car then sets it down on the asphalt. She doesn't understand how Chloe still doesn't get it – even after they nearly missed their flight and were late to pick up their rental car. "I've told you this eight million times," she says and turns to her, relaying the explanation again in a confident, scripted tone, "My father always said, 'Anything earlier than fifteen minutes makes you look too eager; anything later makes you look like you don't care.' Do you understand this time?" She's been trying to ingrain this knowledge in Chloe's head for years now, and she's beginning to think a lack of comprehension is not the problem here, but rather a lack of regard for what Aubrey has to say about the matter.

Chloe smiles and nods, but Aubrey knows better than to think this conversation will stop her from being late to everything she attends – including work. Aubrey still receives calls from Chloe's job whenever Chloe forgets to take her phone off silent (which is basically always), and is forced to handle the not-so-friendly reminders that other teachers do not particularly enjoy Chloe's first graders as much as she does. If Chloe didn't look like a kicked puppy while being lectured, Aubrey has no doubt she would be unemployed, leaving Aubrey to foot all their bills.

Aubrey counts their luggage then sighs and shuts the trunk door with a loud thump that temporarily silences a flock of noisy seagulls. She double checks to make sure it's closed before she pulls up the handle of her suitcase and looks at Chloe one more time, her lips pressed together and her shoulders tense. She debates whether or not it's worth adding anything else to her argument. "Also, it's polite to be early." It's not surprising when her reasoning falls on deaf ears.

"Beca's not going to think we don't care because we're on time," Chloe argues in an amused tone that makes Aubrey shoot her another look. She locks the car doors with a button on a key ring then hoists the strap of the smallest of her two bags up over her shoulder. "I think she'll understand. Since when has Beca ever been early for anything?" She looks up at Aubrey and clutches her carryon bag against her body, still smiling.

"Never," Aubrey answers flatly. She leans down and picks up her own shoulder bag, which is the same color as her suitcase – unlike Chloe's bags which are a mix of clashing blue stripes and purple polka-dots. She meets Chloe's eyes as she's straightening herself back up and holds her gaze. "Because she doesn't care." She pauses briefly then adds, "That's why she doesn't have a job." She knows she's almost daring Chloe to try to argue with that last comment. It seems like all she hears about is how 'cool' Beca's job is. Her lip curls and she adjusts the strap of her bag so it's not digging uncomfortably into the collarbone. God, she can't believe she let Chloe talk her into this. "Fifteen minutes, Chloe," she tries to reinforce the point of the conversation again, but unfortunately she knows that the topic has already switched to the one person she doesn't want to talk about and the one person that Chloe can never shut up about. It's been over four years since they've graduated, and everything still seems to revolve around none other than Beca Freakin' Mitchell. She's slowly beginning to accept that she'll never escape that woman. But that doesn't mean she has to like her.

"What are you talking about?" Chloe furrows her brows and shakes her head. "You know she's a DJ in LA and she's producing music. Just because she doesn't have a job in her major doesn't mean she doesn't have a job, Miss Intern for a Lawyer Attorney at Law. Plus," she smiles wider and straightens up, letting her bag fall so it's hanging at her side, "we're all going to a wedding, not work. No one has to think about work for a week, Aubrey, not even you."

Aubrey thinks that's easy to say for someone who plays with finger paints all day. "I'm not thinking about work," she lies smoothly. She presses her lips together again and turns to look out over the docks as she tries to not think about everything she's going to miss while she's away on this 'vacation'. It's hard. She likes work, for the most part. Somewhat. What she doesn't like is this rickety wooden walkway that stretches out over the choppy bay that she's looking at. And she especially doesn't like the idea of sailing across that water. The last time she was on a boat, it was a ten story, capable cruise ship that was well equipped with a jacuzzi and surround sound in the Bahamas. The boats she's looking at now could be paddle boats compared to that one. A few of the boats at the dock actually are paddle boats. She turns her nose up at them. "I'm just saying maybe if she had a job in her major, she could have rented a yacht and picked an island that doesn't smell like fish to get married on." She makes a hand motion to their surroundings and not-so-subtly scowls at the waiting ferry that is assaulting her eyes. The briny air does equal damage to her nose, and it leaves a salty aftertaste in her mouth as the wind tries to blow away her ever-stylish straw hat. She lets go of the handle of her suitcase just long enough to press it back down on her head. Being so adamant about her disapproval eases some the heavy anxiety that weighs down on her chest.

"Aubrey, all islands smell like fish," Chloe says in a tone that Aubrey suspects she talks to her students in, "They're surrounded by ocean." She takes a few steps toward the ferry then stops abruptly and turns to face her with an excited grin. "You know, I was teaching my kids about marine life the other day and-"

"Hawaii doesn't smell like fish," Aubrey cuts her off with a petulant retort. It's the first thing that pops into her mind. She already knows all about Chloe's adventures in teaching about marine life. Their refrigerator is covered in first grade drawings of fish (each with a barely legible fact) that make Picasso look like he only ever did Realism. (She may be barely able to read any of them, but she can't even get a glass of water without noticing the seahorse with the saddle and cowboy hat that says 'seehorsis are not reely horsis'. And, okay, so maybe it always brings a smile to her face, but that's not the point.)

"You've never even been to Hawaii," Chloe bites back lightly, "It could smell like that weird pulp mill on the way to the mall that you always take the long way around to avoid, for all you know."

Aubrey makes a moue and steps forward. "That's still not fish," she replies without bothering to hide the bitterness in her tone, "And I still don't want to be here." She yanks on her suitcase and walks toward the ferry without bothering to look back at the car. If she gives it one last glance before she steps on that boat, she knows she'll give in to the desire to drive it straight back to the airport. "Plus, Hawaii smells like Coconut Leaves and Berry Sangria," she announces.

"That's Bath and Bodyworks' summer collection," Chloe corrects her.

Aubrey just ignores her and keeps walking.

"Aubrey, wait," Chloe calls after her.

Aubrey stops several feet away, and turns with a heavy sigh to make sure that Chloe is following.

One of the wheels on Chloe's suitcase is caught in a crack in the sidewalk, and she gives it a pull. It doesn't budge. She looks back at it and gives it another hard tug that nearly sends her sprawling, but she stumbles and catches herself before she falls. She gives Aubrey a sheepish look then takes several swift steps to catch up with her again.

Aubrey shakes her head and resumes walking.

"Come on, this is going to be fun!" Chloe insists and gives Aubrey a good-natured swat on the arm. The keys jingle in her hand and Aubrey rubs where they hit her elbow. "It's going to be like that movie Bridesmaids or something," she continues.

Aubrey stops one more time and turns to face her. "Chloe, have you ever seen that movie?" she inquires with a shake of the head. "If it turns out like that, I am not even getting on this boat."

Chloe halts just before she crashes into her then pauses. "Okay, that was a bad example," she admits. She chews on her lower lip and makes an expression that Aubrey has come to realize will be followed by a notoriously bad attempt to save herself. "But it's still going to be really fun!" She grins at Aubrey, who just gapes at her as though she's grown a second head then turns around to continue her reluctant trudge toward the ferry. Chloe speeds after her again. "It has to be fun. It's a wedding!"

That it is. Aubrey lifts her gaze to look at the decorated ferry, complete with streamers and a large sign that reads 'There Are Millions Of People In This World, But In The End It All Comes Down To One'. Jesse's doing, no doubt. Beca has been texting Chloe for the last several weeks about how the entire wedding was turning into one of those sappy romance movies that she really hates. Aubrey doesn't see why she would have a problem with it being sappy when she should have a problem with its location. Some island off the coast of Seattle? Really? She knows Beca argued the matter for a few months, but Jesse's desire to return to some old vacation spot from his childhood won out. She doesn't really understand how Beca and Jesse work, but then again, a lot of people say the same about her friendship with Chloe. They never agree on anything. She's torn from her thoughts by Chloe's persistent encouragement.

"I promise it's going to be great, Aubrey, okay?" Chloe insists again.

Aubrey glances back at her. "You said that about the ICCAs during our junior year of college, too," she reminds her. She lifts her suitcase up onto the ramp that leads to the ferry then steps aside as one of the crew members steps in to assist with their luggage.

"Well, maybe you won't puke on the boat," Chloe replies optimistically without missing a beat. It doesn't seem to occur to her until after she opens her mouth and Aubrey is giving her a look that encompasses everything from disgust to exasperation that she said the wrong thing. Her teeth clench and she diverts her gaze to the ground as she kicks at a nail sticking out of the ramp.

"Real nice, Chloe," Aubrey admonishes her, "Thank you for the succor."

"Let's just find Beca, okay?" Chloe looks up and offers an apologetic smile, like finding Beca doesn't sound even worse than boarding the boat. She abandons her luggage near the ramp and takes Aubrey's arm. Aubrey realizes that once this boat leaves the dock, there is no getting out of this. Chloe seems to realize this too, because she half-drags Aubrey onboard. "This is exciting. We haven't seen Beca in like two years now," Chloe gets back to the reason they're there.

"By choice," Aubrey reminds her. She's careful not to trip as Chloe keeps pulling her until they come to a stop next to a table. She eyes the refreshments, which at least look decent, and the typical, cheesy pastel colored decorations. Nothing about this screams 'Beca' at her. But who knows how much a person could change after two years.

"By your choice," Chloe corrects her rather sorely.

Aubrey snaps her head to the side to look at her when she registers her tone. "She hurt you," she defends her decision without a hint of regret. She hurt us.

"People get engaged," Chloe replies with a tight smile, "I got over it."

Aubrey decides to use her good judgement and just not to think about the whole situation right now - or ever. She turns away from Chloe to look around again, this time at the people. Either there is a small guest list or she and Chloe are two of the first people to arrive. Given that Beca isn't exactly timely, she assumes that the people she socializes with are the same way. She doesn't even recognize any of the people that are already there, aside from Beca's dad and his wife. They're grinning and whispering to each other on the other side of the boat. He brushes her hair out of her face. Aubrey sighs and just hopes to the aca-gods that she and Chloe aren't the only Bella alumni that Beca has invited. She got wind from Chloe that Jesse invited the Trebles, and Aubrey will be damned if she is spending a week on some crummy island with Beca Mitchell and a bunch of egotistical dirtballs.

They're all probably fat and balding by now though.

Aubrey smirks.

Aca-men age prematurely.

Aca-ladies, on the other hand, stay flawless for years to come.

Still, she could just leave. She stares longingly out over the dock at the rental car. Beca wouldn't care. Beca seems to be as enthusiastic about this whole wedding thing as Aubrey is about recent music. And Aubrey already knows that Beca only invited her because of Chloe – apparently, she couldn't think of anyone better to include as a bridesmaid. But she knows if she leaves, she's going to eventually have to deal with Chloe's tears. She swears that Chloe makes herself cry sometimes because she knows Aubrey can't stand seeing her upset. It's not fair. She plants her feet flat on the deck. "I don't get why they're even getting married to begin with," she groans.

She doesn't expect the disembodied reply of, "I heard I'd get better health benefits."

Aubrey turns to the side where Beca is now standing and doesn't bother to hide the disgusted look on her face. Beca may have helped her win the ICCAs, but Aubrey won't forget the bad terms that they ended on afterwards. She won't forget the heartbreak that Beca Mitchell caused. Beca has no idea how many nights Aubrey stayed up holding Chloe as she cried over her, or how Chloe's Tequila-tinged hazes always somehow lead to one-sided conversation about what could have been. No idea. She folds her arms and purses her lips together as she stares down her nose at the bride-to-be without uttering a word. She wants to gag at how much Beca still looks like she did when they were in college, ear monstrosities and all. So much for hoping for change.

"She's kidding," Jesse informs them from where he's standing beside Beca. He glances down at her. "You're kidding, right?" His insecurity almost amuses Aubrey. It's no secret that Beca is a flight-risk. She won't be surprised if Beca never shows up to walk down the aisle.

"I'm kidding," Beca assures him and shoots him a perplexed look. She faces Aubrey and Chloe again and musters up the worst welcoming smile that Aubrey has ever seen then lifts her arms and slaps them back down against her sides. "I'm shocked you came," she admits.

"Of course, we came," Chloe answers softly, "Even if I wasn't your maid of honor, I would still be here." Chloe steps forward and wraps Beca in a hug, still completely oblivious to Beca's need for personal space. If Aubrey wasn't so uncomfortable standing there alone, she might smirk. Instead, she just eyes Chloe as if she might need to jump in and save her at any given moment. "Aubrey would be here too," Chloe adds with too much confidence for Aubrey's taste, "She RSVP'd, so..."

The corners of Aubrey's lips twitch.

Beca awkwardly pats Chloe on the back and waits to be released before she turns to face Aubrey. "Aubrey," she greets her tersely.

"Beca," Aubrey matches her tone. They two of them eye each other in displeasure and Aubrey thinks that if they hated each other any more, they'd probably be rolling around on the floor trying to kill each other. Not that killing Beca would be worth rolling around on a dirty floor for. No, on second thought, it actually might be.

"Uh, Fat Amy," Amy says her own name and steps off the ramp and onto the boat, successfully cutting straight through the tension. "Is this like Bellas role call? No cardio, right?"

Aubrey can feel a real grin spreading across her face. "Amy!" she exclaims with a grin and turns to face her. She can see Chloe sighing in relief at her sudden change in demeanor.

"Hey," Fat Amy greets her with a grin and tries to do a fist bump, which Aubrey hesitates to return then completely fails at. Amy turns to fist bump Beca too. Beca is much better at that than Aubrey is, and Aubrey scowls to cover her embarrassment.

"Congrats on the whole wedding thing," Amy comments and glances around the boat.

"Thanks," Beca replies with forced enthusiasm as Jesse squeezes her shoulder.

There's an awkward silence, and Fat Amy turns to face Aubrey again, and Aubrey knows that for once someone is talking to her because they want to rather than because they're trying to keep her from blowing up. Not many ladies from the Bellas actively kept in touch after graduating (except for Chloe who talks to everyone), but Aubrey and Amy still speak. "Didn't know you were going to be here," Amy states and punches Aubrey's shoulder, "Thought you'd stay at home being a big shot lawyer or something."

"It's just an internship right now," Aubrey dismisses the comment, but she can't help but feel smug that she has a job in her major and Beca doesn't. She knows that Beca has the job that she wants to have, but a smile tugs at the corners of her lips nonetheless. She rubs her shoulder. There is still an awkward silence going on between Chloe, Beca, and Jesse, but Aubrey is content to ignore that and engage in conversation with Amy. "I didn't know you were going to be here either." Aubrey tries to keep in touch with Amy regularly, but with their busy schedules, their friendship has been rather intermittent. That being said, she's still probably one of the only friends, aside from Chloe, that Aubrey has. Unless the other intern from the law firm, Brian, who she often has coffee with counts. They sit in the café and try to read law books together in silence. There is also the cafe owner, Conrad (the reason they never actually succeed at reading in silence), but Aubrey isn't sure whether or not they're friends. Chloe never really understands Aubrey's social life when Aubrey talks about it, but Aubrey enjoys it enough.

"I'm glad to see you," Aubrey says with a grin and leans forward to give Amy a light, one-armed hug. It's probably not her best idea. An 'oof' noise escapes her lips as Amy engulfs her in a bone-crushing embrace that nearly squeezes the air out of her. She gives an awkward laugh when Amy releases her, then she backs up a few steps to avoid any more painful physical contact. Then in an attempt to look and feel presentable again, she quickly straightens her blouse.

Bumper boards the boat behind Amy and looks at her and the other guests. "I didn't come with her," he states to no one and everyone, and points to Amy.

Aubrey narrows her eyes at him as he turns and makes his way toward a cooler of beer. "Did he?" she mouths to Amy in disgust while, at the same time, Chloe mouths the same words in excitement. She wrinkles her nose at Chloe.

"He did," Amy answers with a nod and a wink. Chloe looks elated while Aubrey gives Bumper a look of repulsion as he cracks open a beer.

Beca heaves a sigh that directs all the attention back to her.

Aubrey refolds her arms and leans against Chloe as they all turn to look at her again. Maybe she can somehow forget that Beca is even here. It'll be quite a challenge since it is her wedding, but Aubrey supposes there is no harm in trying.

"I thought everyone was supposed to be here by now," Beca says.

"Relax," Jesse says cooly, "They'll be here." He leans to the side and speaks through the corner of his lips, but Aubrey knows he's not bothering to hide it when he says, "You're starting to sound like Aubrey. What is it again, fifteen minutes early?"

"Aca-scuse me?" Aubrey blurts out. She doesn't even bother to see what kind of look Beca makes at Jesse's comment. Chloe immediately slides an arm around her waist as a gesture to cool her down, and Jesse looks innocently off to the side. Of course this is how it's going to be. It always is. She looks down at Chloe and breaks away from the embrace. "I'm not staying if this is what's going to happen, Chloe." She's sick of still being the one that no one respects - the butt of the joke. Jesse mouths the word 'wow', and she shakes her head at him then walks several feet away to grab a drink. She's relieved to be followed by Amy. From the corner of her eye, she can see Chloe sighing as she watches her go. But, of course, she doesn't jump in to defend her when Beca still has so much of her loyalty.

Aubrey grabs the bottle of beer that Amy hands her and twists it open with her bare hands. The edges of the cap scrape her palm, but she doesn't care right now. Her eyes are trained on the trio in front of her.

Jesse leans down and kisses the top of Beca's head. Chloe's expression is unreadable, but Aubrey can see the hurt in her eyes. She suddenly wishes that bottle cap had been Beca's head. She fumes as she tosses it in the trash then takes a sip of beer. She's not used to the bitter taste, but it isn't completely disgusting. She takes another drink.

"I'm going to go mark their names down in the guest list," Jesse says, his eyes not leaving Beca. "You gonna be okay here?"

"I don't know why I wouldn't be," Beca retorts with that forced smile again. She stares at his back as he walks away.

Chloe looks at Aubrey then furrows her brows and looks back and forth between Beca and Jesse. "Everything okay?" she inquires at Beca, her voice laced with typical Chloe-concern. Beca could have done a lot worse than break her heart and it would be just like Chloe to still put her above herself. Aubrey keeps a close eye on them, her vocal chords poised and ready to destroy Beca the moment things take a turn for the worse.

Beca lifts her hands and hits her sides with them again. "This whole marriage thing is bullshit," she admits when Jesse is out of hearing-range. "The things you'll do for love, right?" She shakes her head and walks away from Chloe, moving toward the less populated end of the boat.

"Beca!" Chloe calls after her but Beca doesn't turn around. "Right," she whispers and, once again, has that kicked-puppy look that makes Aubrey want to make whoever hurt her pay. Chloe rubs her hands against her jeans and temporarily looks like she doesn't know where to go before she quickly turns and retreats back to Aubrey's side. She grabs the bottle of beer from Aubrey's hand and takes a long swig of it.

Aubrey clenches her jaw and rests a hand on Chloe's lower back. If they have to attend this wedding, there is no way that she'll let Beca get away with making it worse than it already is - for either of them.